It’s been five months since the New York Times dropped their mammoth digital story “Snow Fall,” and some people still talk about it as if it came out last week. At a conference recently, the editor-in-chief of the Times said that “Snow Fall” has become a verb inside the newsroom. Om Malik suggested that projects like this are where media companies should be investing their money.
I was thrilled when I first saw “Snow Fall.” For the past few years I’ve been working to help publishers break from their templates and craft powerful digital stories. I work on a startup designed to streamline this process called scroll kit. So, instead of tweeting about how awesome “Snow Fall” was, I wanted to do something that would show its admirers that they can do it too—I made a replica. It took about an hour to put together, and I recorded a video of the process. I recently opened my email to see a cease and desist:
They told me to take the demo video down and, in some sense, I can see where they’re coming from. I used their images/video to make a point. I can see how the video could fall under Fair Use, but we don’t have the resources to fight the Times’s legal department. I took down the video and wrote them back to say that I had complied.
Then they sent this:
On our homepage, we introduce the replica by saying this:
‘The NYT spent hundreds of hours hand-coding “Snow Fall.” We made a replica in an hour.
It’s an unreasonable and baffling request for the New York Times to tell us to take down this statement. A statement of fact about a company is not a copyright infringement. More so, it makes little sense for them to send their lawyers after a three-person startup whose goal is to facilitate the type of immersive storytelling that they say “everyone wants to do now.”
The Times shows they approach digital in a new way with “Snow Fall,” but their response to our replica shows their approach to copyright hasn’t been “Snow Falled.” They demanded that we take down our replica, and we complied, but I ask them to change their mind. We are admirers of the piece, and others are, too; making a replica only makes the piece more iconic and celebrated.
The backlash to “Snow Fall” is that it’s an indulgence only the Times can afford. It took them six months and a powerful multi-person dev team to hand-code it. Most news orgs don’t have anywhere near these kinds of resources, and this is why we’ve spent the past year creating a tool that opens the ability to produce these stories to significantly more people. That we are able to make a replica of “Snow Fall” in an hour is cool, and our tool is something the Times could integrate just as easily. The next time someone from the Times is on a panel and is asked how others can transform the look of their stories, a shout-out to scroll kit or other publishing tools would be appreciated. That, as opposed to a cease and desist, is a more fruitful way to respond to your admirers.
I emailed Deborah and asked why our claim is considered a copyright infringement, and am waiting to hear back.
In the meantime, we need another example to replace “Snow Fall” on our homepage. Have a piece of compelling journalism that you want to give the scroll kit treatment? Contact us.
The New York Times responded to my question:
Dear Mr. Brown:
We are offended by the fact that you are promoting your tool, as a way to quickly replicate copyright-protected content owned by The New York Times Company. It also seems strange to me that you would defend your right to boast about how quickly you were able to commit copyright infringement:
The NYT spent hundreds of hours hand-coding “Snow Fall” We made a replica in an hour.
If you wouldn’t mind using another publication to advertise your infringement tool, we’d appreciate it.