This one could have echoes across the country.
Last month, Boston.com started a new experiment with “hyperlocal” sites. They try to develop deep content about individual towns, dragging in content from its own writers, other media entities and, it hopes, citizen journalists.
Three towns in Boston’s western suburbs were the first targeted, including my own town, Needham. When it started, Boston.com ripped both the headline and story verbatim from Gatehouse’s Needham paper and dropped them on its own site. Now it just shows the headline, a very brief summary, and sends readers to the Gatehouse site to read the whole story. Sounds like Google News, doesn’t it?
Gatehouse argues that Boston.com is violating copyright laws. Gatehouse definitely gets prominent credit for being the source of the material, but Gatehouse says that compounds the offense because that infringes on its copyright, too. The suit is scheduled for initial arguments in US District Court in Boston this week. Because it’s in federal court, the outcome could have relevance across the whole country.
Of course, profligate linking by news aggregators has been going on forever. This network effect is the lifeblood of the internet. It’s the premise behind search engines, and you don’t see people complaining about being listed in Google, do you?
So blocking that practice would not only be impractical, but I can’t see how winning this would benefit Gatehouse. Gatehouse will not win the battle for readers on its own, even though its reporting in my town is good, and fills an important need. Sure, its papers are dropped at every doorstep in town weekly, but with the print media dying quickly, it will soon need big-time portals to get attention. Boston.com is one of the biggest news sites in the country – that’s a good start.
Gatehouse needs to stop hyperventilating over this one. The old media model, a historical accident, is dead. As the music industry has learned the hard way, survival lies not in keeping the old media model on life support, but in embracing and extending the new one.