Lawsuit over website links in spotlight / Copyright violation or fair use to be decided

Lawsuit over website links in spotlight Copyright violation or fair use to be decided

By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff | January 23, 2009 The Boston Globe

A copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit filed last month against The New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe and its website, is being watched closely by news organizations, Internet researchers, independent bloggers, and companies that aggregate news online by linking to a variety of news sites.

At the heart of the complaint, lodged by GateHouse Media Inc., which publishes 125 community newspapers in Massachusetts, is the question of whether Internet news providers will be able to continue the practice of posting headlines and lead sentences from stories they link to on other sites. The case has been scheduled for trial in US District Court in Boston as early as Monday.

"This is the first case where these intellectual property issues have come to a head," said David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge. "If the judge was to rule for GateHouse on every point, it would have far-reaching implications for the news and information ecosystem that underlies the Web as we know it."

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., a school for professional journalists, said the case could result in new guidelines for how much, if any, content from one website can be used by another. "This is standard procedure across the Internet now," she said. "Newsrooms adopted the procedure from other practitioners."

GateHouse, a national chain of local daily and weekly newspapers based in Fairport, N.Y., filed its suit Dec. 22, alleging that Times Co. violated copyright law by using "verbatim" headlines and snippets from GateHouse stories on The Globe's website in November launched a local news site covering Newton, the first of a series of "hyper-local" Your Town sites planned for the Boston area. The sites, which now include Needham and Waltham, compete with GateHouse's own stable of "Wicked Local" community sites.

In addition to copyright violation, the complaint charged that was infringing on GateHouse's trademark rights by posting online attributions to GateHouse brands such as Newton Tab, Daily News Tribune, and Wicked Local, "thereby causing confusion and mistake among users of the infringing website as to the source and endorsement of the content posted there."


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Monty Solomon
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On the one hand, quoting the title and one sentence of a work has always been considered fair use in other contexts.

On the other hand, much of the usefulness of a news story resides in its title and first sentence.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I rather hope fair use wins.

***** Moderator's Note *****

It's not about fair use: it's about advertising revenue. In order to read the title and the first sentence of a story, viewers must see the ads that are on whatever page shows it to them, and as the market for traditional newspapers collapses, publishers are scrambling for every mil of online advertising money they can find.

Long story short: smalltown publishers want the Big Boys to share the wealth. They want to be paid for every quote, no matter how short, so that they can keep reporting on the mayor's middle name and the date of birth of Paul Revere and all the other garbarge Pete Seeger oh-so-presciently predicted.

After all, if the first line of the story made viewers want to click on it and read the rest, there wouldn't be a problme.

Bill Horne Temporary Moderator

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