Aaron Myers was furious when he heard that Joe Ricketts, the billionaire chief executive of the company that owns D.C. local news blog DCist, had abruptly shuttered the site after employees voted to unionize. Myers, a 34-year-old Dallas native who has been active in D.C.’s jazz community since he moved here in 2008, says he saw the move as an affront to the community.
So he bought the DCistNow.com domain name and on Monday launched a local news blog of his own.
In the site’s introductory post, he was critical of Ricketts’s decision to close DCist, and he described his site as an effort to fill the void. He hopes to recruit DCist’s former reporters to write for his new site and eventually pay them as freelancers.
“It was (and is) my goal to have a community resource (blog) that is based in DC, that will be a consistent source of quality information filled with innovation, integrity, and that same investigative spirit that I believe the DCist and many other blogs possess,” Myers wrote. “I do not take kindly to outsiders trying to disrupt my home.”
Ricketts does not appear to have the same enthusiasm for Myers’s idea. On Wednesday Partridge Partners, an intellectual property law firm representing DCist’s parent firm DNAinfo, contacted Myers requesting that he cease and desist.
In a Nov. 8 letter reviewed by The Washington Post, the firm admonished Myers against “adopting any name or mark that is composed of the components “DC” and “IST” in any form or combination.”
“DNAinfo has acquired substantial goodwill in its DCIST trademark and actively promotes that goodwill,” the letter reads. “Your use of the Domain Name and ‘DCist Now’ is anticipated to cause confusion, mistake and deception with DNAinfo and its DCIST name and mark in violation of U.S. trademark law.”
The letter said Myers’s blog may also violate the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, a 1999 law that concerns deceptive domain names. The firm said Myers may be liable for $100,000 in damages not including attorneys’ fees.
In an emailed statement to the Washington Post, a spokesperson representing DNAinfo described the letter as an effort to protect the company’s intellectual property.
“We think it’s great that other people want to start neighborhood news sites but this is our intellectual property and we will protect it,” a DNAinfo spokesperson said.
Asked Wednesday how he would respond, Myers said he would refuse to transfer the website to DNAinfo.
Ricketts “can do what he wants . . . there ain’t much he can take from me,” Myers said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t care how much money he has, we’re gonna stand up for the people of D.C.”
He later added via a text: “They will NOT be getting DCistNOW.”
Myers said he contacted Ricketts’s company on Monday asking whether there is a bidding process for the DCist website and archive, but says he received no response.
On Wednesday, the site displayed a hodgepodge of introductory posts in the style of a local news and culture blog: a post about a local jazz musician, a frozen yogurt review and a link to The Post’s 2017 Virginia election coverage.
Myers says he wants to turn the blog into an independent, profitable business. He described the staff as “a volunteer force, for now.”
Myers says he moved to the District in 2008 after three years in the Army, an unsuccessful mayoral run in a small town in Texas and some time in California. He works as a jazz singer at a bar in the District’s Eastern Market neighborhood and also runs a nonprofit meant to support the city’s jazz community.
This story has been updated to reflect the correct job title of Joe Ricketts, and to include subsequent comment from DNAinfo.