I don’t want to prejudge the lawsuit GateHouse Media filed against the New York Times Co., which owns the Boston Globe and Boston.com, 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 Boston.com 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 Boston.com’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 Boston.com’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, 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.
By offering what copyright lawyers refer to as the “substantiality” — that is, the best and most marketable part — of GateHouse’s stories, Boston.com, 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 PaidContent.org.
- 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.