Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

New York Times to the Web: Hands Off Our “T”!

The New York Times is justifiably proud of the work its staff publishes on the its flagship Web site every day. It’s also very proud of the first letter of its name.

That seems to be the lesson in a flap between the paper and Newser, an aggregation site whose motto is “Read Less, Know More.” Newser, which links to and summarizes work from news sources from around the Web, routinely uses a logo from the source site as a visual shorthand. See example below.


If you clicked on the image, you’d find a Newser page with a two-paragraph summary of the Times story; the summary cites the paper and links back to the original article. Not good enough, according to a letter the paper’s legal department sent to Newser earlier this month.

Newser co-founder Michael Wolff sums up the paper’s complaint in a post he published today:

It seems that the Times doesn’t want us using an itsy-bitsy T logo to identify the Times as one of our sources. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of media oranizations we link to at Newser only the Times has raised this as an issue. Given its perilous financial state, you’d think the Times should surely be spending its money on solving other problems.”

What Wolff doesn’t mention: The Times also complained about his use of one of its photos, says spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. “We asked Newser to take down a photograph that they took from, without permission (and misattributed) and we have asked them not to use our gothic ‘T’ logo,” Mathis says via email. “While we appreciate Newser linking to Times articles, we need to protect the use of our trademarks, such as the gothic ‘T.'”

Wolff says the letter he received was from Deborah Beshaw, whose LinkedIn profile describes her as an administrative assistant at the Times. He wouldn’t forward me a copy, but described it as legal boilerplate warning that the Times would “pursue all available remedies, both criminal and civil” unless Newser stopped using the logo.

It’s tempting to turn this into a bigger think piece about the nature of aggregation sites, the “link-based economy” and the suit the New York Times Co. (NYT) recently settled with GateHouse Media, which accused it of violating GateHouse’s copyright when the Times Co.’s site linked to GateHouse sites.

But if this is really just about a photo and a logo, then there’s less fire than smoke here.

Even Wolff, who understands the value of a good headline as much as anyone, admits as much, saying that he’ll stop using the Times logo–if that’s what the Times really wants. “I could care less about their logo.” he says. “I would be perfectly willing to replace it with a skull and cross bones.”

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work