The New York Times and the Huffington Post don’t seem to like each other very much. This particular dispute arose when well-known parenting blogger Lisa Belkin left the New York Time’s Motherlode blog and started writing a new blog for the Huffington Post called “Parentlode.” The Times sued for trademark infringement in New York district court back in November, stating:
“In drawing attention to the purported relationship between the blogs and offering the Parentlode blog as a continuation of NYTCo’s Motherlode blog, Ms. Belkin clearly intended to create an association in the minds of readers between the two competing blogs and, further, her reference to the ‘new name’ was a deliberate attempt to mislead readers into mistakenly believing it was the same blog, albeit with a slightly different name and location.”
The Huffington Post didn’t help matters when the tagged Ms. Belkin’s posts “Motherlode.” I think this case raises some interesting points. Does announcing a “new name” for the blog indicate that this is the same blog that used to be over at the Times but now it simply has a new home base? Are readers confused into believing that the two blogs are the same thing, just in a new location? Do people read blogs because of the newspaper or website that hosts them or because they enjoy the personal writing style and insights of the poster? We’ll never know how the New York district court would have come out on this or even what the parties ultimately decided among themselves because the parties have reached a confidential settlement. We do know that in a recent blog post, Ms Belkin got in some digs:
“Things can get petty and prickly in the sandbox. Sometimes there’s that kid who throws the sand around, and won’t share toys, and picks fights instead of playing nicely.
What is a parent to do?
Well, you can fight back, but the end result will probably just be more thrown sand. Or you can take your child by the hand, smile benignly at the bully, then go off to the ice cream shop and have a delightful afternoon.
Make mine chocolate chip.”
She went on to announce that the Huffington Post was launching a contest to rename the blog and the winner will receive a trip to New York, lunch with Arianna Huffington, and, “to show there were no hard feelings,” a year’s digital subscription to the New York Times.
We will likely see more of these sorts of cases in the unstable journalism world, where new reporters are encouraged to “brand themselves” because they don’t know how long the paper they currently work for will survive. The BBC addressed a similar issue when a popular reporter left and took 60,000 Twitter followers to a new employer. Much like the Phonedog Twitter ownership case that everyone is talking about now, this case points out the necessity of making sure everyone involved in a creative endeavor knows who owns what. If a blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, or fill-in-the-blank is work-related, the employer needs clear policies and employment contracts that state in plain language that the account is the intellectual property of the employer so there is no controversy later. Conversely, if an individual employee blogs to “brand” herself, she should bargain on the front-end for ownership of the blog so that it is clearly portable if she later changes jobs. This simple step can mean the difference between spending countless days at your lawyer’s office rather than going “off to the ice cream shop and having a delightful afternoon.” Make mine jamocoa almond fudge.