January 26, 2009 | By michael

GateHouse and the New York Times Settle

With trial looming, GateHouse Media and the New York Times over the weekend settled their dispute over "hyper-local" news aggregation sites on the NYT-owned Boston.com website.

The parties' joint press release pointed interested parties to the binding letter agreement [PDF] the parties signed over the weekend. The agreement includes several key points addressing past behavior:

  • GateHouse will implement technical measures intended to prevent Boston.com from copying material from GateHouse websites and RSS feeds, and Boston.com will not attempt to break those measures.
  • Boston.com will cease using GateHouse RSS feeds to create links on its hyper-local sites.
  • Boston.com will remove any material on its hyper-local sites that were created using GateHouse RSS feeds.

In short, the parties are pressing the "rewind" button and pretending that GateHouse never offered the RSS feeds that massively simplified Boston.com's linking to GateHouse content. On a going-forward basis, GateHouse will try to make it difficult for Boston.com to automate such linking, and Boston.com will honor those efforts.

Does that mean that Boston.com won't link to GateHouse content any more? Seemingly not:

Notwithstanding the above prohibitions, nothing shall prevent either party from linking or deep-linking to the other party's websites, provided that the terms and conditions set forth in this Letter Agreement and in the Definitive Agreement are otherwise fully complied with.

That seems to say that Boston.com is free to link to GateHouse stories, so long as it doesn't take the shortcut of using GateHouse's RSS feeds (or scraping content from GateHouse's websites). GateHouse apparently accepts that Boston.com can link to its stories, but doesn't want to assist Boston.com in those efforts by allowing its RSS feed to be automatically processed into Boston.com news links. (As a practical matter, this may lead Boston.com to stop bothering to link to GateHouse articles at all. While that appears to be what GateHouse wants, some may question the wisdom of turning away free traffic.)

The parties are hard at work on a definitive (lawyer-speak for "much longer") settlement agreement, which they hope to complete by Friday. Maybe the longer agreement will shed further light on the situation.

But for now, it looks like the parties have resolved the matter in an manner that doesn't mangle copyright and trademark law.

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