Home Hyperlinks: The End of Online Journalism?

Hyperlinks: The End of Online Journalism?

GateHouse Media Inc. and The New York Times Co. will be facing each other in federal court this week in a fascinating case that is sure to be followed closely by bloggers and journalists across the nation.

GateHouse, one of the largest publishers of community newspapers in the United States, filed a copyright infringement suit last month claiming that the Globes’ new local Web sites are using material without permission. The New York Times Co. is the parent company of The Boston Globe.

In what will likely be a precedent setting case for new media, GateHouse claims Boston.com is violating copyright and trademark laws by republishing headlines and lead sentences from GateHouse Wicked Local sites on Boston.com, linking to the original articles [on the Wicked Local sites] and as a result allowing visitors to bypass ads posted on the GateHouse home page. GateHouse also claims this is creating confusion about the source of the original story.

Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times last month said the company believes GateHouse’s claims are “without merit.”

“Boston.com’s local pages, like hundreds of other news sites, aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published on the Web. They link back to the originating site where the interested user can read the entire article,” Mathis said in a statement on Dec. 22. “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.”

Jeff Jarvis, who has been following the case on his blog BuzzMachine sees this as a danger to journalism. Many people would agree. “Gatehouse should be sucking Boston.com’s toes begging for more links, not siccing lawyers on them,” writes Jarvis in a post last month. “The move is not just brain dead but dangerous, for it threatens the ecology of links that I believe will be the underpinning of news online. Links are how original journalism will be supported.”

If you’re not familiar with the case, you can get some background by reading the two versions of the story. Boston.com’s has published its take here, and GateHouse here.

Photo Credit: Dezz

UPDATE: Case settled out-of court

Thanks Matt and Jeffrey for pointing out the case has been settled. You can read the Agreement here (PDF). It was settled out-of-court, which may be fortunate or unfortunate depending on how you look at it. As it was an out-of-court settlement, there will be no judicial precedent set.

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