Monday, January 26, 2009

Settlement in linking case that could have made bad law

So the New York Times/Boston Globe and Gatehouse Media have settled their little tiff over the Globe's linking from its hyperlocal sites to stories on Gatehouse's Wicked Local sites.

Nobody admits wrongdoing, and both sides slink off into the night without exchanging checks, each to instead pay its own barristers.

Good. It was a bad case that had the potential to make very bad law, although at least one commenter thinks it still could have bad karma. David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center thinks judges could interpret it as the Globe saying that what it did was wrong.

That may be a little stretch. More likely, we're going to see a scramble to get a bunch of barriers up on news sites to prevent scraping by others. That's the sum of this case: the Globe agrees to play nice and abide by Gatehouse's electronic barriers -- although in the Globe story it sounds a bit snitty about the whole thing:

The settlement reflected the reality that GateHouse can technically block's computer program from retrieving stories for conversion to links from GateHouse's Wicked Local blogs, which cover dozens of communities across Massachusetts. GateHouse had not previously established an effective barrier to prevent such scraping of its stories.

Gatehouse, it should be noted, said from the get-go that it had established such barriers and that the Globe's was ignoring them.

What the Globe appears to give up here is merely a bit of automation. It still, according to its article, can deep-link to Wicked Local articles, but apparently it will have to come up with its own wording -- it can't scrape headlines or ledes. (It also is going to take down all it has scraped so far.) So it probably won't be splaying those many links across its sites. But it certainly could encourage its writers to include more in their stories, etc. And I suppose it could hire a few low-paid stiffs to manually fashion new headlines and link wording, if it wanted.

Boston has posted the text of the agreement (pdf).

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