GateHouse claims victory; online reputation still suffers

GateHouse Media and the New York Times Co. have rapidly brought to a close one of the most misguided media legal spats since the great Associated Press/Drudge fiasco of 2008.

As you may remember, last June the wire service sent DMCA copyright notices to the Drudge Retort for . These weren't entire AP stories scraped wholesale from AP's website, they were small excerpts between 33 and 79 words long that were often used as the starting point for a blog-based discussion on the Drudge Retort. Bloggers, Internet forums, and many mainstream media writers flayed the AP for its heavy-handed approach to what many believed to be Fair Use. Some even called for a boycott of AP.

Within days, . The non-profit news cooperative acknowledged the "constructive exchange of views" with the blogging community and announced that both it and the operator of the Drudge Retort had reached an understanding and "consider[ed] the matter closed."

So, when GateHouse against the New York Times Co. a few days before Christmas for "reproducing, displaying and distributing on the Infringing Website unauthorized verbatim copies of newspaper article headlines and the first sentences thereof," I immediately thought of the AP's disastrous adventure with the Internet six month's previously. While GateHouse's beef was tied up with a New York Times-owned blog aggregator on pointing to several GateHouse websites in three Boston suburbs, the issue at the heart of the lawsuit was essentially the same as AP's dispute with the Drudge Retort: Can a website publish small portions of content from another publisher without asking for permission or paying for it?

Kirk Davis, the president and chief operating officer of GateHouse media, told me that in the just-settled case the answer was "no."

"What we were concerned with here is the verbatim copying of headlines and ledes," Davis said. He was referring to the practice of's "" websites excerpting the headlines and first one or two sentences of local blogs, including GateHouse's blog for the Newton Tab newspaper.