By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How the GateHouse suit looks from both sides

I don’t want to prejudge the lawsuit GateHouse Media filed against the New York Times Co., which owns the Boston Globe and, except to say it’s a fascinating case that will be watched closely by everyone in the news business.

There’s a lot that cuts both ways. Here’s how I think it looks from the Times Co.’s point of view.

By putting together a series of Your Town sites that link to content in the Boston Globe, independent blogs and other newspapers, including GateHouse papers, the Times Co. is doing exactly what new-media experts are advocating. Currently there are three, in Newton, Needham and Waltham. But’s Bob Kempf has said the goal is to roll out 120 Your Town sites throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

Rather than treating your news site like a walled community, the idea is to offer intelligent aggregation, linking not just to your own content but to that of other news organizations as well. An example of a mainstream news organization doing this is the Washington Post with its Political Browser, which offers a roundup of what its editors believe is the best political coverage online, regardless of whether it resides on the Post’s servers.

Act as a trusted guide, so this thinking goes, and readers will reward you by coming back, even though you keep sending them to other sites. And as for the news organizations to which you’re linking, it’s a win-win for them, since they’re receiving more traffic than they otherwise would.

Then there’s how this looks if you’re, say, Kirk Davis, the president of GateHouse Media New England.

From Davis’ point of view, what Your Town is doing is not offering intelligent aggregation; it’s simply scraping headlines and ledes off GateHouse’s Wicked Local sites and presenting them as’s own news.

Even if Your Town drives traffic to individual GateHouse stories, it is destroying the value of the Wicked Local home pages — including those in Newton, Needham and Waltham. There are GateHouse papers in some 125 communities in Eastern Massachusetts, and the prospect is that Your Town and Wicked Local will be going head to head in each one.

Yes, 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.

By offering what copyright lawyers refer to as the “substantiality” — that is, the best and most marketable part — of GateHouse’s stories,, GateHouse charges, is not complying with the notion of “fair use,” which defines the circumstances under which a copyright-holder’s work can be re-used without permission.

And, of course, both the Times Co. and GateHouse are trying to sell advertising. I’ve seen several observers attempt to draw parallels to Google News. But you will not find any ads on Google News. That doesn’t necessarily solve the fair-use problem; to oversimplify, the test is whether the copyright-holder is being hurt, not whether those re-using the content are making money. But it does make a difference. (And it definitely makes a difference with GateHouse, since it publishes its content under a non-commercial Creative Commons license.)

In this case, both the Your Town and Wicked Local sites feature local advertising, which, ultimately, is what this dispute is all about.

Here’s a round-up of some of the latest developments.

  • The Recovering Journalist, Mark Potts, has no sympathy for GateHouse’s position, and speculates that “a dinosaur or two in GateHouse management” are behind the lawsuit. Potts is entitled to his opinion, but his speculation is wrong — it’s not the dinosaurs. Or at least it’s not just the dinosaurs.
  • I’m quoted in accounts this morning by Russell Contreras of the Associated Press (formerly of the Globe) and Christine McConville of the Boston Herald.
  • More coverage by GateHouse News Service reporter Neal Simpson and by David Kaplan of
  • Jeff Jarvis jerks his knee in such a predictable manner that he risks dislocation.
  • At Boston Daily, Paul Flannery offers some smart thoughts.
  • Yesterday I posted GateHouse’s complaint (PDF). This morning I’ve added an affidavit (PDF) filed by Greg Reibman, editor-in-chief of GateHouse’s papers in Greater Boston. I look forward to posting the Times Co.’s response as well.

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Times Co. responds to GateHouse lawsuit


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  1. Michael Pahre

    While I haven’t examined the complaint or affidavit in any detail, I think that a gedanken experiment would be in order:What if the Boston Globe were to have put all of the content on their Your Town webpage onto a blog RSS feed instead?Frankly, the Your Town webpages look like RSS content, even though they are technically a webpage, not a blog feed.The blogosphere is full of curated aggregators — where a human picks out interesting stories from the intertube morass and provides title/short excerpt plus link on a blog feed. Nothing new.In the Your Town/RSS feed example, I doubt that GateHouse would have sued the Boston Globe.Why not? What’s different? (1) Advertising on the Your Town webpage that’s not on the (gedanken) RSS feed; and (2) Accessibility increased for ordinary users, since blog reading is still a small subset of overall web activity. Note how #2 further minimizes the impact of #1 even if the RSS feed could incorporate advertising (e.g., inline text).Based on this admittedly simplistic analysis, I think that the GateHouse suit is driven wholly by competition for advertising dollars and not by any issue of copyright. Copyright is being used by GateHouse as a weapon in an advertising war, not as a bona fide intellectual property case.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: I’m not a big fan of argument by analogy, although I’m occasionally guilty of it myself.Why not look at what the two parties are actually doing, rather than speculating about what they might do if the situation were different?

  3. Tish Grier

    Dan,you raise some important points I hadn’t thought of. At first blush, Gatehouse’s move seems very bone-headded. But, if the only content on one of’s pages is *only* Gatehouse content, then that’s a big problem. Still, from a reader’s POV, if I go to a (purported) hyperlocal site, and all I’m seeing is aggregated headlines from other MSM sites–be they newspapers or tv stations–I’m really not impressed. That tells me one of three things: that the region has no independent hyperlocal content; that someone’s lazy at the “home” site and may have a stake in other msm sites; or google really isn’t doing such a good job unearthing hyperlocal blogs as some of us think because they’re not being aggregated.This could also end up being pretty sticky for news review sites like NewsTrust and Digg among others. Sometimes these sites rely on headlines vs. “teasers” from the text of articles. Now, many of these sites aren’t making money from ads at the moment, but if they begin to, will they then be in the same boat as This is a pretty sticky situation–yet one that was bound to come up sooner or later.

  4. Mark

    I’m with GateHouse on this one.The average news consumer doesn’t read news with a very discerning eye. I’m amazed at how many of my friends don’t even know who wrote an article after they are finished reading it. Looking at the Your Town pages, it wouldn’t be obvious to someone outside of the business that the Globe was not responsible for every story on the page. The credit for the stories is in small gray writing.I also agree with those who have said that the headline and lede is all most people will bother to read unless they are really interested in a particular story.I think a lot of people here are looking at this from the point of a view of somebody in the news business or at least as someone who follows the news business very closely. We all could probably name most of the regular reporters for the Boston Globe, and would pay attention to the credit given for articles on the Your Town pages. Most average people would not.

  5. ron-newman

    I’m looking right now at . It’s pretty obvious that content comes from all over the place — Your Town Blog (part of, Newton Tab Blog (part of GateHouse), Boston 1775 Blog (not part of either), Elicia Buzz Blog (not part of either), Verbatim Blog (not part of either), etc.The page is not just a digest of GateHouse content, nor a digest of content. It’s a digest of multiple different sources of Newton news.

  6. XauriEL jSt'vaan Zwaan

    If most of the substance of your article is in the headline, your article is crap.

  7. Aaron Read

    Here’s another aspect to keep in mind, although it may be more thought experiment than anything else…Many radio stations (I can cite specific examples, but won’t because I’m not here to single out people) have long read through the morning paper, picked out the top ten stories or so, and then they re-write them slightly as radio scripts and boom – there’s your top of the hour newscasts for the day.It’s not GOOD radio journalism, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not uncommon.If one accepts GateHouse’s view of things, how is that any different from what is doing to WickedLocal?Seriously, I haven’t exactly spent days thinking about this, but it strikes me as essentially the same thing…but I’m really hoping someone can tell me it’s not.

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