A commenter on this blog tipped me off to GateHouse Media's lawsuit against the New York Times Company for what amounts to copyright infringement taking headlines and ledes verbatim from GateHouse's Wicked Local sites and publishing them on Boston.com's Your Town sites. (The New York Times owns The Boston Globe and Boston.com.)
Well, just a couple of hours ago, Ellyn Michele Angelotti of the Poynter Institute reported (via The Boston Globe) that a judge has denied GateHouse's request for an injunction against the New York Times and would only consider one after Jan. 5, when a jury trial is scheduled to begin.
Not surprisingly, the implications of the lawsuit have free speech and fair use advocates burning up their keyboards, perhaps with good reason. In a blog post on Journalistopia, Danny Sanchez writes:
The lawsuit, if successful, could create a monumental chilling effect for bloggers, news sites, search engines, social media sites and aggregators such as Topix and Techmeme, which link to articles, display headlines and use snippets of copyrighted text from other sites. Initiatives such as the NYTimes.com Times Extra, which displays links to related articles from other sites, could be shut down for fear of copyright lawsuits. It could lead to a repudiation of one of the fundamental principles on which the Internet was built: the discovery and sharing of information.
Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine doesn't mince any words in his blog post, A Danger to Journalism:
But Gatehouse (like the AP before it and the French often) is fighting links from Boston.com. Thats a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face: Gatehouse is turning away traffic and audience. Suicide. But its also attempted murder: If on the very slight chance that an equally clueless judge lets this suit proceed, it could put a chill on linking just when we need it most. Thats whats dangerous. That is irresponsible on Gatehouses part.
However, Dan Kennedy of Media Nation sympathetically looks at the situation from GateHouse's point of view:
Yes, Boston.com gives credit to the GateHouse papers, and yes, you have to click through to read the stories. But in many cases you don't have to read the stories to get the gist of it. This is not a novel proposition earlier this year, the Associated Press went after bloggers for reproducing its headlines and ledes, arguing that represented most of the value of its news stories.
Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media, while acknowledging that Boston.com is treading close to the notion of fair use, feels GateHouse may have a legitimate case if its claim is valid that Boston.com is bypassing GateHouse's security measures to prevent "scraping" content:
In other cases of this sort, those of us who have argued that aggregation-via-scraping is fine have also tended to say that sites that dont want to be crawled have a way of fixing the problem: blocking access to the software robots doing the crawling. What happens when your barrier is evaded?
If Boston.coms Your Town crawlers/scrapers are going around the technological blockades, that strikes me as at the very least poor behavior. I dont know whether its legal, but its not honorable. Boston.com should take the hint and stop pointing to GateHouse.
Right now, this seems to boil down to a battle over advertising dollars. GateHouse is likely worried that visitors to the Your Town sites will have no reason to click through to the Wicked Local stories if they already get the gist of each article, thus depriving their advertisers of potential customers.
While I don't think GateHouse will walk away from this with a victory, the lawsuit highlights the ongoing battle for millions of eyes and just how desperately they are needed to keep online media operations profitable.