Media aggregation under scrutiny in NYT Co. lawsuit

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Gatehouse Media, a Fairport, NY-based company that owns several local newspapers, has sued The New York Times Co. for alleged improper use of GateHouse headlines and content on some New York Times Co. local Web sites in the Boston area. The case between the two online publishers could impact future policy surrounding media aggregation.

In the complaint, filed on December 22 in a Massachusetts federal court, GateHouse said that content aggregated on a Boston.com Your Town local Web site for the town of Newton is improperly lifted from some of its properties, including the Newton TAB's Wicked Local Web site.

“Upon reviewing the Boston.com/Newton site we quickly determined that Boston.com was directly copying from Wicked Local Newton and other publications and using that as a large part of their site's presentation, very little of which appears to be original content generated by Boston.com or related publications,” said Gregory Reibman, editor-in-chief of the Metro unit at GateHouse Media New England, in an affidavit.  “By copying our Web site content, Boston.com avoids the expense and burden of hiring or paying journalists to cover… local events.”

Catherine Mathis, a spokesperson for the New York Times Co., said in a statement printed in a December 22 Boston.com article on the suit, “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.”

The New York Times Co. did not return a request for comment by press time. GateHouse forwarded a statement from Kirk Davis, the president of GateHouse Media New England, which said, "GateHouse has commenced legal action in federal district court in Boston today against the New York Times Company in order to prevent the continuing infringement by Boston.com of GateHouse's valuable intellectual property… As a matter of policy, I won't be commenting further on this matter."

A number of bloggers have commented that, if successful, the Gatehouse suit could drastically change the way content is disseminated on the Web. In a post titled “GateHouse Lawsuit vs. New York Times Co. has Dire Implications,” Journalistopia.com blogger Danny Sanchez said, “The lawsuit, if successful, could create a monumental chilling effect for bloggers, news sites, search engines, social media sites and aggregators… [that] link to articles, display headlines and use snippets of copyrighted text from other sites… It could lead to a repudiation of one of the fundamental principles on which the Internet was built: the discovery and sharing of information.”

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