Lawsuit Against NYTCo Threatens Widespread Internet Linking Practices

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, violatedcopyright 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 manyblogs. GateHouse’s suit seeks to put a stop to Boston.com’s practiceof linking to GateHouse-owned online content.If successful, the suit’s outcome could have far-reaching effects onthe way information is distributed on the Internet.

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

Legal Experts Weigh In

“Let’s say you’re writing a local blog and you put in a link to astory in your local newspaper. Most media companies have no problemwith that,” Chris Collins, an intellectual property attorney atVanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, told the E-Commerce Times. “Butthat’s exactly what GateHouse is objecting to. They’re trying toredefine and challenge the current practice and rules. GateHouse issaying, ‘We’ve done all this work to generate local news, and we don’twant 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 orpayment to permit a company such as Boston.com to link to itsstories,” he said. “GateHouse could be saying that in order to link toits site, you need to get its permission, and you need to pay for theright to link.”

GateHouse’s suit also alleges that the New York Times Co. circumventedsecurity measures meant to block it from linking to GateHouse-ownedcontent.

Copyrighted content, such as that produced by the GateHouse writers,is protected by a variety of discrete copyright laws, Raymond VanDyke, 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 notsurprise me to see GateHouse also allege violation of the DigitalMillennium Copyright Act, which provides some powerful tools to combatinfringement. It is possible that GateHouse is saving that allegationfor later to up the stakes,” Van Dyke speculated.

If GateHouse Wins

GateHouse is trying to exercise more control over its content thancopyright 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 thananyone 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 — thatis, until the defendants answer the complaint, and we see their side ofthe story.”

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

“A legal victory for GateHouse will change the way many newsorganizations work online,” Collins said. “This could be a definingmoment in online news reporting.”

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