HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 26, 2009, 2:39 p.m.

GateHouse-NYT Co. deal: A bad precedent for the web

It’s going to take some time to think through the implications of the settlement (PDF link) announced today between the New York Times Co. and GateHouse Media, over the issue of NYT’s Boston.com site aggregating content from local sites belonging to GateHouse, but my first instinct is that it is almost unrelentingly bad. Why? Because while the settlement is not a legally-binding precedent — the one piece of what might be called good news — it still involves the New York Times voluntarily refraining from what many would argue is perfectly defensible behaviour. As Joshua Benton notes in his post here, that could well embolden other publications to launch similar cases, on the assumption that if the NYT caved then someone else might too.

The Times tries to argue that this settlement does nothing to change the way it approaches linking to or even quoting from external sources on its websites, but that clearly isn’t the case at all. It completely changes the way the paper does that, but only when the content involves a GateHouse website. The NYT claims that it will continue to link to and quote from external sources whenever it wants, but will no longer do so with GateHouse content (under the agreement it can continue to link, but can no longer aggregate content in an automated way, and has agreed not to quote from a GateHouse site).

This kind of dual status for linking and quoting is going to be virtually impossible to defend, I would argue. What possible rationale could the NYT create for taking one approach to GateHouse content and another to content from everywhere else? The only obvious reason is that one sued the company and the others haven’t. That’s an invitation to further court cases.

My biggest fear (and I don’t think I’m alone) is that every settlement like this one weakens the defences around the entire structure of the Web, in which linking and quoting — in some limited, representative way — is a fundamental principle. Not only that, but doing so is a right that is enshrined in the U.S. copyright principle of “fair use.” It’s true that there are all sorts of limits placed by the courts on that principle (although the simple fact that a site is run by a commercial entity is not a de facto exclusion from fair-use protection), but I would argue that it is still a vitally important principle, and one we shouldn’t be too quick to give up.

I recognize that the NYT has corporate responsibilities to consider, and that it probably didn’t want to engage in a protracted legal battle over this issue — particularly during tough economic times — but I think the agreement it has entered into is a major step backward for media and the Web.

POSTED     Jan. 26, 2009, 2:39 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     GateHouse v. NYT Co.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
The ubiquity game has different rules for digital startups than for legacy businesses. But for both, figuring out the right relationship with Facebook is key to their audience strategies.
Jeff Israely: Good content marketing benefits from a smart publisher’s touch
Our startup correspondent, building Worldcrunch in Paris, on the thinking behind its operation’s pivot: “The smart brands know they’ll lose your attention if they use this new publishing power simply to push their merchandise.”
How a hobby foreign affairs blog became a paywalled news destination — and a business
World Politics Review has grown from one man’s side project to a small news operation supported by a niche paywall.
What to read next
2481
tweets
Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it
The new report from the Media Insight Project looks at millennials’ habits and attitudes toward news consumption: “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”
926The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists
News companies have moved from print dollars to digital dimes to mobile pennies. Now, with the highly anticipated launch of the Apple Watch, the screens are getting even smaller. How are smart publishers thinking about the right way to serve users and maintain their attention on smartwatches?
729A wave of distributed content is coming — will publishers sink or swim?
Instead of just publishing to their own websites, news organizations are being asked to publish directly to platforms they don’t control. Is the hunt for readers enough to justify losing some independence?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
CNN
Craigslist
Mozilla
Zonie Report
Windy Citizen
Voice of San Diego
Daily Kos
Drudge Report
The Nation
Alaska Dispatch
New England Center for Investigative Reporting
Plaza Pública