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GateHouse Media Files Copyright Suit

December 23, 2008

On Monday, GateHouse Media Inc. filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the parent company of The Boston Globe, stating that the newspaper’s new community Web site uses online material from GateHouse without permission.

GateHouse claimed Boston.com violated copyright and trademark laws by “reproducing, displaying and distributing” its newspaper headlines and original material published on its “Wicked Local” Web sites.

GateHouse claims that Boston.com offers links that send readers directly to “Wicked Local” stories and bypasses ads posted on home pages that help fund the operation.

The company says it set up electronic security measures to prevent users with a certain Boston.com address from scrapping content off its Web sites.

But GateHouse says that Boston.com intentionally circumvented those measures.

One of the nation’s largest publishers of community newspapers, GateHouse Media owns 97 daily newspapers, 400 other publications and 260 related Web sites reaching more than 10 million people in 21 states. Publications in Massachusetts alone include The Patriot Ledger, The Enterprise, the Newton TAB and the Daily News Tribune of Waltham.

Boston.com started three “Your Town” community Web sites last month that cover the cities of Newton, Waltham and Needham “” the first in a series of “hyperlocal” Web sites to be launched.

GateHouse claims the New York Times Co. unit is building community-oriented sites that rely on the work of GateHouse journalists.

However, GateHouse Media’s claims are “without merit,” according to New York Times Co. spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. She added that the company believes it will prevail in the case.

Mathis issued a statement saying: “Boston.com’s local pages, like hundreds of other news sites, aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published on the Web.”

“Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web.”

The lawsuit alleges that Boston.com displayed copyrighted content from GateHouse publications, The Boston Globe and other blogs in a way that creates a false impression that it has been licensed, authorized and endorsed to use the content.

According to the complaint, people who click on Boston.com links are taken without notification to the “Wicked Local” report, adding to the potential for confusion on the source of the original report.

The company is seeking an injunction against Boston.com, together with compensatory and punitive damages.

“The case could have national implications because it could settle questions on how much content one news organization can use from another,” said Dan Kennedy, an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University who also runs the Media Nation blog that is tracking the lawsuit.

“What the Globe is doing is what everybody says newspapers should be doing,” said Kennedy, referring to aggregating content like Google News.

However, the Boston.com model is different since it puts up advertising, unlike Google News, he added.

GateHouse can make an argument that Boston.com is profiting from GateHouse journalism.

Kennedy said it would be interesting to see the outcome, considering it is one of the most important stories about the newspaper business right now.

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