January 26, 2009

NY Times Sued By GateHouse Media

The New York Times Co. is being sued by GateHouse Media, one of the largest publishers of community newspapers, for copyright infringement.

Gatehouse claims that the Boston Globe website, owned by The New York Times Co., uses online material from Gatehouse without permission.

According to GateHouse, the Boston.com website is taking GateHouse newspaper headlines from its "Wicked Local" websites.  In addition, the company alleges that links from Boston.com to "Wicked Local" stories bypasses their home page, causing Gatehouse to lose revenue from online advertising.

Since last fall, Boston.com has released three "Your Town" websites which cover stories in the cities of Needham, Newton, and Waltham, as part of a launch of over 100 "hyperlocal" websites.

GateHouse alleges that the websites rely on the work of their reporters.

The outcome of the case could have far-reaching effects for shaping how much material news organizations can use from other websites.

"It's certainly being followed within the journalism community, but this is huge in new media and blogging because God help us if a judge or a jury starts to lay down rules as to what constitutes acceptable linking practices and what isn't," said Dan Kennedy, assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University.

Gregory Reibman, the editor-in-chief of the metro unit of GateHouse, said in an affidavit that when readers click through from the "Your Town" links, they have to bypass the ads on Wicked Local's home page.

"If the Boston Globe wants to compete with us in Newton and the other communities we serve, they should approach it fairly," Reibman said. "They should hire and pay their own journalists. They should generate their own original content and nurture their own contacts within the community."

Catherine Mathis, a New York Times Co. spokeswoman told the ASsociated Press the GateHouse claims are "without merit."

"Boston.com's local pages, like hundreds of other news sites, aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published on the Web. They link back to the originating site where the interested user can read the entire article," said Mathis in an earlier statement.

"Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web. It is fair and benefits both Web users and the originating site."

According to Bill Mitchell, director of Poynter Online, the lawsuit is not just about linking.

"I think it's a very tricky, interesting issue because on the one hand if I were in GateHouse's shoes, I'd feel well-served by links from the bigger Boston.com. On the other hand, the extent to which users find themselves sufficiently satisfied just by looking at the Globe hyper local site, that really undercuts what GateHouse is trying to do," he said.

GateHouse, owns 97 newspapers, 400 other publications, and 260 websites that reach 10 million people across 21 states.

The trial is scheduled to start in the U.S. District Court on Monday.


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