I just got off the phone with Kirk Davis, the newly promoted president and chief operating officer of GateHouse Media, who gave me his interpretation of their settlement with The New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe. “We believe the settlement provides GateHouse with all the essential relief on the issues that caused us to take the action we did, and we’re completely satisfied,” he said.
This much seems clear: The settlement prohibits the Globe from republishing the headlines and first graf of GateHouse content as they’ve been doing on three hyperlocal news sites rolled out last year. That’s how Davis put it, and when I posed that interpretation to Abbe Serphos, a spokeswoman for The Times Co., she said, “I think that’s pretty right on.”
The Globe’s Your Town sites could link to specific articles or blog posts published by GateHouse as long it doesn’t quote the headline or lede, according to Davis. “We don’t have an issue with deep linking,” he said. I asked Davis if it would be OK for a Globe blogger to quote a few grafs from an article in one of GateHouse’s community newspapers. “I would agree that’s fine,” he said, adding with a huff, “That takes a little bit of human effort.”
There’s the key distinction: automation vs. human effort. The finer points of this settlement will be ironed out in practice, but this definitely strikes a blow to automated aggregation. (It does not, however, set a legal precedent.)
Davis also spoke about repairing his company’s “progressive reputation on the web.” GateHouse was praised in 2006 when it made all of its content available under a Creative Content license, but its lawsuit against The Times Co. has been criticized by Jeff Jarvis and others.
“In the spare time I had to follow public sentiment about this case,” Davis said, “you’d see comments like, ‘GateHouse is against linking.’ You’ve got to be kidding me. What do you think, we’re stupid? Of course we like linking and of course we support linking.”
Under the settlement, GateHouse “will implement one or more commercially reasonable technological solutions” to prevent the Globe from subscribing to and copying from GateHouse’s RSS feeds, which is how the Your Town sites have been operating thus far. Davis wouldn’t speculate about what that solution may be, but it could be something like blocking the Globe’s IP address. The Globe is also prohibited from circumventing the agreement by doing the same sort of aggregation by hand.
Finally, while I was on the phone with Davis, Lisa Williams of Placeblogger asked me to see if the settlement prohibits GateHouse or Globe content from appearing in either company’s local search results. Davis said it does not. “We have no problem with being captured by search,” he said.