We got ripped off by a huge company. Again.

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Museum Hack News June 26, 2020 We got ripped off by a huge company. Again.

Last summer we were shocked to find one of the world’s largest media companies piggy-backing on our small brand. It appeared this company was using the Museum Hack trademark, without permission, to increase traffic to their website.

Heads up — today’s article outlines that media company’s continued disregard for good business practice and laws. The issues here are relevant to anyone who loves museums like we do, or even just believes that business practices should be fair. Big companies shouldn’t be able to steal a small art business’ street cred — we’ve worked too hard for it. We need your help as readers and fans to help put this issue to an end. This article has two parts: a quick summary of the original conflict and then a review of how it has escalated since then. Let’s get started…

The COPY appeared in Travel + Leisure this month. Our original is on the right.
The COPY appeared in Travel + Leisure this month. Our original is on the right.

How Travel + Leisure Uses Marketing Techniques For Google Search Results

Whenever someone mentions “Museum Hack” online we get a notification. Usually this is an article written by a journalist that came on tour, a museum partner we’ve shared our expertise with so they can re-invent their own tours and galleries, or an update to our rankings on TripAdvisor (we are currently top 10 in NYC!)

But back in August 2015, we received a bunch of pings we were concerned about — Travel + Leisure published a series of 5+ articles titled “Museum Hack” that had nothing to do with us.

After considering our options, we wrote an article sharing our perspective on this issue, What Happens When Your Startup Gets Trolled By A Bigger Company?

Here’s a quick summary:

  • A small company like ours doesn’t have many assets, but an important one we do have is our name. The “Museum Hack” name and our talented staff are really the only constants here, everything else including our product offering, operating cities, marketing, etc. changes over time.
  • We’ve invested a lot of time and money developing our brand. Building a website and creating great content costs $$, and our “unconventional museum tours” are the result of thousands of hours of practice. We are fortunate that our efforts attracted features on PBS, the Wall Street Journal and TED, and we have a great reputation with a growing list of clients and partners. We hired a lawyer to register our trademark and help protect this brand.
  • Travel + Leisure released a series of articles with titles like, “Museum Hack: How to Master New York City’s Metropolitan Museum”, that aren’t about us — but by including our name they may appear in Google search results more often for the growing number of people searching for these words. This means someone searching for us could find that unrelated article instead. At the time there were about five articles that followed this format. Side note: there is nothing “hack” about the T+L series, it’s just general information about the museums.

The day we published that first article, an editor from Travel + Leisure emailed us with an explanation, saying that she had never heard of us and the whole thing was a misunderstanding. She also offered to have her team write a real review of our unconventional museum tours. Great! We edited our article to include her comment and were happy to put the whole thing behind us.

But that wasn’t the end of it…

Is Travel + Leisure Still Trolling Us?

Since the original incident, Travel + Leisure has posted another 5+ articles with Museum Hack in the title. We had assumed that after the misunderstanding the behavior would be corrected, but it hasn’t. And yet that continued issue alone many not have sparked us to write this new article.

Yesterday, we received an email from a trusted professional in our network. Coffee mug in hand, he had opened the magazine version of Travel + Leisure’s new “Europe Issue”, flipped a few pages, and we assume spit dark roast everywhere. He snapped a couple of photos and sent them to us as an email titled “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery…”


It seems like Travel + Leisure is still ignoring our protected trademarks and brand. Exhibit A below. On the left is an editorial feature in the magazine that has nothing to do with Museum Hack. On the right is one of our postcards, the same graphic and colors appear on our shirts, tote-bags, etc. It’s a very Museum Hack thing.

Travel + Ripoff on the left, Museum Hack on the right
Travel + Leisure on the left, Museum Hack on the right
Mark & Lia sporting Museum Hack swag
Mark and Lia sporting Museum Hack swag

The similarity is obvious, and possibly grounds for legal action. Trademark law is complicated and varies by jurisdiction, but often the default is a trademark owner has exclusive right to use the mark nationwide and is protected against any third-party marks that are likely to cause confusion in the minds of consumers about the source. That’s a long way of saying “you can’t do stuff that looks like other people’s stuff.”

And there IS confusion in the mind of consumers. The professional that sent us the above image is a Museum Director, and he laid it out point-by-point:


Same colors?  Same style of Font?  “Hack the Museum”?

I guess you should all be flattered…I guess….

I will close by saying, Congratulations!  Travel + Leisure couldn’t top you…couldn’t concede to you…they can only steal from you!

What’s Next?

This article isn’t about suing Travel + Leisure, and it’s not an official Cease and Desist. It’s a reminder that we care about the value of our brand and that everyone, including the world’s biggest media companies, need to respect that.

So, Travel + Leisure, we still want to be friends with you, but it has to be a two way thing. Let’s work together to create a business environment that is fair for everybody — and one that allows the real Museum Hack to keep pushing forward our mission to reinvent the adult museum experience and get people excited about going to museums again!


In museums we trust,

The Museum Hack Team

written with 💖 by Museum Hack

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