What’s the Web Without Links?

    January 30, 2009
    Chris Crum

In an age where the web appears to be getting more and more open, with the rise of data portability and everybody sharing stuff with everybody else, it is fascinating to see that a newspaper publisher is suing another one that is linking to its content.

GateHouse Media Inc., which owns 125 Massachusetts newspapers as well as web properties like WickedLocal.com, sued the New York Times Co. because its Boston.com-run website "Your Town Newton" was posting headlines and small article snippets from WickedLocal.com.

Your Town Newton

Now the snippets linked to the original site, but that was not good enough for GateHouse. The company claimed that this created confusion over where the content originated, and leads to readers missing out on advertisements from WickedLocal’s front page.

It seemed that GateHouse was not considering the very real possibility that readers would never have made it to their site in the first place had Boston.com’s site not driven them there. Then readers would be missing out on the ads on the article pages too, and frankly, I can’t see how that would help GateHouse’s cause. Boston.com offers its parent company’s stance on the matter:

In a statement, New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the company is simply doing what hundreds of other news sites already do — aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published elsewhere on the Web — and believed GateHouse’s lawsuit was without merit.

"Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web," Mathis said. "It is fair and benefits both Web users and the originating site."

It was like GateHouse was not interested in expanding its web traffic. Traffic comes from links. And many, many sites drive traffic to other sites by doing exactly what Boston.com did. They show article titles and snippets and link to the original.

Ever looked at a Google SERP? Ever shared a link on Facebook? Ever browsed tech news on Techmeme? Digg? Most publications would love to be linked to via these venues.

Since I originally posted this article, the two companies announced that they reached a settlement, the details of which can be read in their entirety here. Under the terms of the settlement, the New York Times Co. has agreed to remove all GateHouse feeds that contain headlines and ledes from Boston.com.

GateHouse will implement solutions that prevent the copying of its content from its sites and RSS feeds. "Nothing shall prevent either party from linking or deep-linking to the other party’s websites," provided that the other conditions are met. The agreement of course applies to all of GateHouse’s and the New York Times Co.’s properties.

So there you have it. It’s settled, but the topic is still up for debate is it not? Who would’ve won tihs case? Fair use still exists right? As Paid Content points out though, the New York Times Co. is in no position to deal with a lengthy and costly legal battle.

To me, it still seems like GateHouse’s loss. It should be interesting to see how much difference in traffic there is after losing the Boston.com links. Yes, they can still "link" to them, but I would imagine the rate of links will be drastically reduced. After this, I’d be surprised if they still wanted to link to them anyway.