Why did the NYT nuke Ten Ones?

By Felix Salmon
March 7, 2011
Ten Ones blog? I asked NYT spokesperson Kristin Mason, and she replied with this:

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What exactly happened at the Ten Ones blog? I asked NYT spokesperson Kristin Mason, and she replied with this:

It was a copyright issue. The Tumblr blog was positioned as a NYTimes.com account, and it contained many images from NYTimes.com for which The Times did not own or control the necessary rights.

I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I can guess. Newspapers often rent rather than own illustrations: the illustrator owns the copyright, and gives the paper rights to use it in certain cases (like this newspaper or that website). What I’m suspecting happened here is that the Ten Ones blog, run by a former NYT staffer and filled with NYT content, looked as though it was a semi-official NYT property. And if the NYT were publishing certain illustrations on Tumblr as opposed to nytimes.com, that might violate the terms of their license with the various illustrators.

I can understand that much. But then things go a bit weird — it seems that the NYT’s Senior Counsel, on learning of this possibility, went nuclear and effectively destroyed the entire blog. Which is a massive overreaction to what was only ever a theoretical risk based on a possible misunderstanding. After all, Ten Ones was not a NYT property, so the NYT would not have been liable for anything appearing there.

More generally, with the NYT paywall coming Real Soon Now, the paper should be bending over backwards to encourage exactly the kind of inbound links that Ten Ones had very many of. One of the big unanswered questions about the paywall is how much it will reduce the amount of inbound links to nytimes.com — a huge number, and one which is extremely valuable to the NYT. We bloggers have been assured that our readers will be able to read anything we link to on the NYT site, even if they’ve already exceeded their monthly quota — but it still might feel a bit weird, sending someone to a site where they’re boxed in and can only read that one article, banned from navigating anywhere unless and until they cough up a subscription fee.

There’s another possibility here, though. Maybe the NYT nuked Ten Ones because of the paywall: they’re actively trying to shut down sites which do nothing but link to NYT stories, since such sites are effective ways around the paywall. That would be extremely short-sighted, if true. One of the NYT’s hardest tasks, post-paywall, will be remaining a central part of the conversation. It needs loyal readers like Ten Ones just as much as Ten Ones needed the NYT.

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