GateHouse, Times Co. Settlement Leaves Big Web Question Unanswered

By: Mark Fitzgerald

In a three-page letter of understanding settling their lawsuit, The New York Times Co.’s Boston.com will stop automatically grabbing content from GateHouse Media hyper-local sites, and GateHouse will build defenses to guard against losing its content to aggregating tools.

The fast-moving case had been closely watched by news organizations and independent bloggers because it turned on a key question of digital newsgathering and dissemination — when does linking to another’s original content effectively become stealing?

The settlement does little to clear up that issue. Both GateHouse and Times Co. agree to make technological fixes that will make the kind of sharing going on now — in which Boston.com was displaying the original headlines and ledes from several of GateHouse’s wickedlocal sites in Boston suburbs — but it also explicitly says “nothing shall prevent either party from linking or deep-linking to the other party’s Web sites.”

“GateHouse will implement one or more commercially reasonable technological solutions intended to prevent copying of any original content from GateHouse’s Web sites and RSS feeds, including but not limited to its wickedlocal.com sites, which Defendant (The Times Co. and Boston Globe entities) shall not directly or indirectly circumvent,” one clause of the settlement, issued Monday afternoon, reads.

For its part, Boston.com will remove all GateHouse RSS feeds from its own hyper-local yourtown sites by March 1.

Under the terms of the settlement, neither party paid damages or admitted any wrongdoing.

GateHouse Media and Times Co. each posted a copy of the settlement letter on its site at http://nytco.com/press/index.html and http://investors.gatehousemedia.com/releases.cfm.

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