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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Does web content aggregation violate copyright laws?

Content aggregation is not entirely risk free.

I am referring to the recent settlement between GateHouse Media, publisher of community newspapers and New York Times Co., parent company of The Boston Globe and site. In context is a suit over the appearance of headlines and first paragraphs from GateHouse news publications on's new hyper-local sites. In its lawsuit, GateHouse claims that is building community-oriented sites that rely on the work of GateHouse reporters thereby violating its copyright and trademark laws by taking Gatehouse's newspaper headlines and lead sentences published on its home pages. GateHouse’s major worry is about the empowerment of Boston Globe’s readers that gain the ability to access GateHouse content while by-passing ads appearing in GateHouse home pages – and the extended fears of consequential loss of its ad revenues.

The settlement envisages GateHouse will set up technical barriers to prevent's scraping spiders from automatically scarfing up its headlines and RSS feeds, and will honor those barriers.

To me, on a first glance it's the perfect lose-lose solution. readers lose an opportunity to be exposed to GateHouse stories, and GateHouse loses the traffic from those external links. And everyone loses if more sites take similar steps to restrict the entry points to their content. May be, the arrangement is not binding on others or it may not even set a legal precedent. But could it not persuade a Judge in another similar case to lean on the direction and terms of this verdict? Have web advertisers got on board without visualizing the extra mileage that linking freedom provides? To rephrase the question – would they have come to GateHouse Media if told that the extra ad mileage is snapped shut because of linking restrictions?

I think it’s time to dust up and endorse Russel Shaw’s (of ZD Net) earlier proposal to pass a “Freedom to Link” Act !

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