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Lawsuit Against NYTCo Threatens Widespread Internet Linking Practices

Lawsuit Against NYTCo Threatens Widespread Internet Linking Practices

If successful, a lawsuit against the New York Times Co. brought by Gatehouse, a chain of local newspapers, could radically change the way information is distributed on the Internet. The suit challenges the widespread practice of reproducing samples of text with links to original published content on other sites.

By Jeff Meisner
12/23/08 12:46 PM PT

GateHouse Media, a chain of local newspapers, has sued the New York Times Co. for copyright and trademark infringement.

Fairport, N.Y.-based GateHouse, which owns 125 local newspapers, alleged that Boston.com, the Web site for The Boston Globe, violated copyright law by linking to GateHouse stories on the Internet.

The Boston Globe and Boston.com are owned by the New York Times Co. The suit was filed Monday in a Manhattan federal court.

The practice of linking to news stories on the Internet is common among news media, news aggregators such as Google and Yahoo, and a great many blogs. GateHouse's suit seeks to put a stop to Boston.com's practice of linking to GateHouse-owned online content. If successful, the suit's outcome could have far-reaching effects on the way information is distributed on the Internet.

Officials from GateHouse and the New York Times Co. could not be reached for comment.

Legal Experts Weigh In

"Let's say you're writing a local blog and you put in a link to a story in your local newspaper. Most media companies have no problem with that," Chris Collins, an intellectual property attorney at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, told the E-Commerce Times. "But that's exactly what GateHouse is objecting to. They're trying to redefine and challenge the current practice and rules. GateHouse is saying, 'We've done all this work to generate local news, and we don't want you linking to it at all.'"

GateHouse could have a myriad of motivations for launching the suit, Collins suggested.

"It may be that GateHouse Media is looking for enhanced royalty or payment to permit a company such as Boston.com to link to its stories," he said. "GateHouse could be saying that in order to link to its site, you need to get its permission, and you need to pay for the right to link."

GateHouse's suit also alleges that the New York Times Co. circumvented security measures meant to block it from linking to GateHouse-owned content.

Copyrighted content, such as that produced by the GateHouse writers, is protected by a variety of discrete copyright laws, Raymond Van Dyke, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Merchant & Gould, told the E-Commerce Times.

"With the allegation of security protocol circumvention, it would not surprise me to see GateHouse also allege violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provides some powerful tools to combat infringement. It is possible that GateHouse is saving that allegation for later to up the stakes," Van Dyke speculated.

If GateHouse Wins

GateHouse is trying to exercise more control over its content than copyright law will probably allow it to do, Collins said, "but, you never know what a judge will find. Certainly, GateHouse is looking to press the limits of its copyright further than anyone else on the Net that I'm aware of."

Early on, at least, it looks as though GateHouse may have the advantage. "As long as GateHouse isn't publishing content for commercial use," Van Dyke said, "they seem to have the high ground at present -- that is, until the defendants answer the complaint, and we see their side of the story."

If the suit is successful, it would have profound ramifications on the online news industry.

"A legal victory for GateHouse will change the way many news organizations work online," Collins said. "This could be a defining moment in online news reporting."


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