January 23, 2009 | By michael

GateHouse v. New York Times: Lawsuit Attacks Boston.com News Aggregation Site

On December 11, 2008, Boston.com launched a "hyper-local" site for the town Newton, Massachusetts. The site heavily features links to news stories aggregated from around the web. Much like many blogs and news aggregation sites do, the site includes the headline and a snippet from these stories, attributed and linked through to the original article.

Linking to posts by others on the web is ordinary, expected, and usually appreciated. But in a situation reminiscent of the AP debacle of last summer, GateHouse Media, the publisher of a Newton-focused weekly, blog, and news site, didn't much care for the free traffic Boston.com was sending it.

On December 22, 2008, GateHouse sued the New York Times (which owns Boston.com and the Boston Globe). In the complaint [PDF], GateHouse alleges copyright infringement based on Boston.com's use of GateHouse headlines and ledes when linking to its stories. GateHouse is also claiming that Boston.com's attribution of GateHouse's stories infringes its trademarks, under the theory that consumers will conclude that GateHouse licensed, sponsored, or authorized the use of its marks on the Boston.com site.

GateHouse's complaint also mentions that the Boston.com links bypass the front page (and front-page advertising) of GateHouse's websites, and suggests that Boston.com may have intentionally worked around technical measures GateHouse instituted to prevent Boston.com from accessing its content. But based on letters between counsel [1][2] [PDFs], it looks like those issues have dropped out of the case (as to the latter in particular, apparently GateHouse added some Javascript to its web pages, but Boston.com was accessing the content via an RSS feed).

It's been said that justice delayed is justice denied. The judge seems to agree; the trial is set to start on Monday, a mere 35 days after the complaint was filed. And in a handwritten notation at the end of a recent scheduling order [PDF], the judge indicated his intent to "make findings and rulings from the bench at the conclusion of final arguments."

It's not often that a case like this goes to trial, so we'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one. Stay tuned for more!


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