Earlier this month, a rapper named Shirt wrote an article about himself, but he did it under the byline of Jon Caramanica, a New York Times critic and hip-hop point man. He also selected snippets of text from previously-published articles, rounded it out with his own, and posted on the site nytimes.la, which was designed as a pretty good doppelganger for the real Times site.
Not only did Shirt, who did the site design himself, use the Times masthead and design, he also used the Times’ headlines, content preview, and photos. Of course, it doesn’t look completely identical – among other things, the margins are different, the text isn’t as clear, and in his article, he made the style guide faux pas of writing “e-mail,” not “email.”
The nytimes.la homepage is a giant hyperlink to the real Times site, but is that enough to make up for using the New York Times proprietary design, not to mention the reporter’s name?
In the context of achieving his goal – getting attention – Shirt’s stunt was successful. But where is the line between great PR and breach of copyright? And is it a breach if he linked back to the Times? As with all copyright issues, it’s a murky one at best, and terms like fair use and parody are likely to come up if action is pursued.
We’ve discussed before that the FTC does not like ads disguised as editorial content, but that is in the context of paid native advertising, which this is not. So in building his own version of the New York Times online, did Shirt skirt the issue?
Like most brilliant PR moves , Shirt’s article got him a lot of press attention that he hadn’t previously received (including this insightful article from NPR about the struggles of hip-hop musicians trying to get noticed and about how Shirt operates). Getting noticed is the underlying directive of PR campaigns, which Shirt obviously did successfully, but the other question is, when the conversation moves on, will the few weeks of media notice make any difference?
Yes, it was a pretty good stunt. But PR pros know that good PR is a continuing dialogue, not a one-off shout into the ether. It will be interesting to see whether there are any aftershocks from Shirt’s article, or whether it disappears.
Where do you think the line is between good PR and copyright breach?