Since May of 2001, blogger Benjamin Kabok has used the Twitter account @NYTOnIt to gleefully mock the pieces he deems "just that obvious."
"GUYS, turns out not drinking soda is much better for you than drinking soda. The Times is ON IT," he tweeted in September, in response to an article about a newly published New England Journal of Medicine report suggesting that sugary drinks contribute to obesity.
"GUYS, there are *gasp* fake profiles on Facebook, and The Times is ON IT," he tweeted last week, after the paper wrote about "fraudulent likes" and phony profiles on Facebook.
The account has drawn more than 20,000 followers -- including numerous Times reporters.
But that didn't stop company executives from complaining that the account's logo -- a letter 'T' in the Times' font -- infringed the newspaper's trademark. Last night, the account disappeared from Twitter. It returned by this afternoon, but without the 'T.'
The newspaper says it did so to protect its trademark, but the Times' legal argument is weak at best, given that Kabok's use of the 'T' isn't likely to confuse readers into thinking that he's affiliated with the paper.
What's more, the company's move has left observers wondering at its heavy-handed reaction to a joke. "It's funny. But it's also offensive -- that the Times would go after speech that is clearly fair comment and succeed in shutting it down, and that Twitter ... would so soon fold to the paper's demand (what will it do when dictators come calling?)" media expert Jeff Jarvis writes.
Regardless, Kabok doesn't seem inclined to fight the Times. Instead, he's crowdsourcing an effort to develop a new avatar. "Twitter has reenabled my account with the threat that if they receive another complaint, it could be subject to 'permanent deletion,' " he wrote today on Facebook. "So in the interest of avoiding that fate, let's open up the floor to a little design contest. I'd love to see some avatar submissions that I could use and not annoy anyone."