What’s the Web Without Links?

Should you be sued for linking?

In an age where the web appears to be getting more and more open, with the rise of data portability and everybody sharing stuff with everybody else, it is fascinating to see that a newspaper publisher is suing another one that is linking to its content.

GateHouse Media Inc., which owns 125 Massachusetts newspapers as well as web properties like WickedLocal.com, sued the New York Times Co. because its Boston.com-run website "Your Town Newton" was posting headlines and small article snippets from WickedLocal.com.

Your Town Newton

Now the snippets linked to the original site, but that was not good enough for GateHouse. The company claimed that this created confusion over where the content originated, and leads to readers missing out on advertisements from WickedLocal’s front page.

It seemed that GateHouse was not considering the very real possibility that readers would never have made it to their site in the first place had Boston.com’s site not driven them there. Then readers would be missing out on the ads on the article pages too, and frankly, I can’t see how that would help GateHouse’s cause. Boston.com offers its parent company’s stance on the matter:

In a statement, New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the company is simply doing what hundreds of other news sites already do — aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published elsewhere on the Web — and believed GateHouse’s lawsuit was without merit.

"Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web," Mathis said. "It is fair and benefits both Web users and the originating site."

It was like GateHouse was not interested in expanding its web traffic. Traffic comes from links. And many, many sites drive traffic to other sites by doing exactly what Boston.com did. They show article titles and snippets and link to the original.

Ever looked at a Google SERP? Ever shared a link on Facebook? Ever browsed tech news on Techmeme? Digg? Most publications would love to be linked to via these venues.

Since I originally posted this article, the two companies announced that they reached a settlement, the details of which can be read in their entirety here. Under the terms of the settlement, the New York Times Co. has agreed to remove all GateHouse feeds that contain headlines and ledes from Boston.com.

GateHouse will implement solutions that prevent the copying of its content from its sites and RSS feeds. "Nothing shall prevent either party from linking or deep-linking to the other party’s websites," provided that the other conditions are met. The agreement of course applies to all of GateHouse’s and the New York Times Co.’s properties.

So there you have it. It’s settled, but the topic is still up for debate is it not? Who would’ve won tihs case? Fair use still exists right? As Paid Content points out though, the New York Times Co. is in no position to deal with a lengthy and costly legal battle.

To me, it still seems like GateHouse’s loss. It should be interesting to see how much difference in traffic there is after losing the Boston.com links. Yes, they can still "link" to them, but I would imagine the rate of links will be drastically reduced. After this, I’d be surprised if they still wanted to link to them anyway.

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About Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow WebProNews on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter: @CCrum237 StumbleUpon: Crum Google: +Chris Crum

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93 Responses to What’s the Web Without Links?

  1. Guest says:

    Hey Chris: If you read the legal documents you’d see that this case is not about linking. Never was.

    • Chris Crum says:

      I’ve looked at the legal documents, and best I can tell, it’s a fair-use issue. Commonly when a publication posts a title and a small snippet of content linking to the original, I believe it is considered fair use. The point is that GateHouse is not appreciative of the links it is getting from the situation.

  2. AndyW says:

    Surely if only a snippet was used – and I don’t know how much content this amounted to – then it has to come under fair use law.

  3. This case was primarily about headlines and ledes and not links at all. This question was if copying headlines and the first paragraph from a story was protected by fair use. NY Times decided not to fight it.

    This is a small blow to news aggregators who will think twice when asked to remove headlines from their sites. It is a blow against those who say use of headlines and ledes is “fair use”. Some people like Gatehouse disagree. Too bad the court didn’t rule.

    The lawsuit was never about deep linking or linking at all. Gatehouse has no problems with links to their content, they just don’t want their headlines and ledes used. Under the agreement, NY Times can link to Gatehouse content but the have to write their own text for those links. No automated wholesale copying of headlines and ledes allowed.

    Those that say Gatehouse is foolish for not being grateful for links to their content don’t seem to be able to accept another view.

    • Chris Crum says:

      Yes it is about headlines and ledes as discussed in the article, but it is about linking, because that’s how many entities on the web link. That’s just the way it’s done. Look at Google News, or Digg, or Facebook (sharing links).

      The point is that Gatehouse is still losing the traffic that it would otherwise be getting unless Boston.com just throws them plain links (which would surprise me). Headlines and ledes would entice users to clickthrough anyhow.

    • Peter Alcivar says:

      The Times was still not taking credit for the Gatehouse content, and was fairly attributing it through the link. So the effect of the settlement is simply that a human has to be involved in news aggregation. Those organizations that rely solely on automated technology to do it are out of luck–unless they come up with an even more advanced “paraphrasing” technology to put it in their own words.

      But then I’m sure some legal genius with too much time on his hands will come up with the argument that because a human was not directly involved in the paraphrasing, that the paraphrased content was derived solely from the original content and is therefore still protected. This in spite of the fact that copyright does not cover an idea, but simply the expression of an idea.

  4. Links build rank and credit. I don’t see why anyone would even consider suing over them. It’s lame.

  5. Greg Reibman says:

    Our case was never about linking. We “appreciate” it when bloggers and other sites link to our content (in accordance with Creative Commons). We encourage our journalists to deep link to other sites.

    Here’s the bottom line. They agreed to remove our copied headlines and ledes from our sites and won’t be doing so in the future. That’s was what we asked for when we sent a cease and desist letter on November 19, 2008 and a follow up a few weeks later.

    Deep linking by both parties is explicitly allowed under the agreement

    Greg Reibman
    Editor in Chief, Metro Unit
    GateHouse Media New England

    • Chris Crum says:

      Thank you for coming by to comment Greg. How do you feel about people sharing your stories on Facebook for example, or Digg, when the Headlines and ledes appear? Don’t you feel you could be missing out on a good deal of traffic from Boston.com? I mean no disrespect. Just curious.

  6. sofakingdabest says:

    A HA! The advantage of paid links. Google take notes.

  7. Snerdey says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me that someone is dumb enough to sue over someone linking to their website or articles. OMG the link alone to their site is worth big bucks!

    I’d have to let someone who thinks this was worth suing over as that’s pure BS.

    Looks to me like someone was just trying to get some quick money or just get noticed more on the web having a lawsuit like this.

    It’s a waste of everyone’s time!

  8. Guest says:

    Some web publishers may want to have “Exclusive” content. Sure, they may lose mass appeal by forgoing links, but if they have a loyal “core” audience, that regularly comes to their site for their content, they would see “highlights” (under fair use) as “dilution”.

    Certainly not me, but I can see the circumstances…

    Here is an example, a woodworking site publishes an expert’s personal techniques for woodworking, and builds an audience. They use this content to sell premium tools at premium pricing. Now, snippets of these articles appear on the Home Depot site, to help sell the same tool (at a lower price) by showing how it can be used. Is Home Depot benefiting from the content.. Certainly. Is the author’s site? Link juice is NOT as beneficial as SALES.

    • Chris Crum says:

      That’s a valid point, although I would think most people would seek out the lower price anyway in a scenario like that.

  9. Chris 54 says:

    I wonder why they would have RSS feeds if they didnt want anyone to take the feed. They should sue themselves!!

  10. Anthony says:

    If the articles were linked to, it seems foolish to turn it into a lawsuit. Unless you just want the free publicity / exposure from the lawsuit. For example, until today, I have never visited either site. The numbers will look good for next months ad sales.

  11. egdcltd says:

    If you don’t want people using your RSS feeds, you shouldn’t have any. Would be interesting to know how much traffic they lost from this complaint.

  12. Mark says:

    No one that owns a newspaper or fairly big size company is unaware of the lucrativeness of the web and particularly how “linking” is efficacious to your overall networth or at least the networth of you website or business.

    I would guess, like one or more people above, that something else is going on here. No CEO or Shareholder in their “right” mind would do this….right? Uh….or would they?

    Perhaps they are having a tough financial time and this is an investment for them; or perhaps they want to buy the company that wouldn’t merge with them (nah probably not, but then again…); or maybe they really don’t know what the other company is doing for them by linking to their site.

    I thought it was pretty well established (say, like common law marriage or De facto) that giving a short excerpt of some news and then linking to the ‘original’ content by hyperlinking the word, “read more” or “continue reading” or “full story” was acceptable?

    I just hope it’s not a Judge that is like the ones who allow individuals to sue Mcdonalds for getting a hot cup of coffee (I thought that’s the way it always comes) or for making them fat by serving calorie rich hamburgers, etc.

    It’s people like that which change the rest of the world for the rest of us through one incompetent judge who lacks the morality, character, integrity, and intelligence to say “NO” to ‘cracks’ so the rest of the Americans don’t have to pay for the crime of another.

    But those who make the decisions to leave those type of judges in office are just as ill it would seem.

    God help us all,


  13. daniel says:

    Well, I mean mean you know…

    If I understand it correctly… One site was taking the feeds and making it seem as if it originated from their own site??

    I would not sue anyone, but yea, thats stealing material…

    • Guest says:

      Everybody avoid Gatehouse media!
      It is absolutely NOT steeling anything but rather allowing the source to pick up free visitors.
      The only time steeling should be inferred is when you copy the actual article’s content and paste it into your own pages.

  14. David says:

    I would be happy for them to link to me :%)

    • Greedy says:

      Dr. Hulda Clark Parasite Zapper Information:

      What you just did “spammed your link on this page” would be
      considered a spammy parasite webmaster that just got Zapped!

      Go build your back-links elswhere please!

  15. CD Rates says:

    I can see Gatehouses perspective, but I think it is not seeing the forest through the trees.

    It is “easy” to copy a headline and do the link. It is much more work to come up with your own headline. That means they probably won’t be getting the links.

    I think it will hurt them more than the NYT.

  16. Michael Swan says:

    Personally speaking, i would not mind if a snippet of the article or news was placed on someones website and they linked back so their visitor could click and read the rest of it from my site.

    I think that this would be a good work around idea…

    What are your thoughts?

  17. I blog about home staging and the real estate industry. Recently I found a company was using my posts in a blog roll on their web site. The linking was properly done. But, they were selling a product which I thought was sub-standard and which I didn’t want to be associated with. They were using my Google juice (as well as many others’) to draw people to their web site to sell their product.

    I agree that linking is a wonderful thing, but what if your web site, blog posts or photos are being used in a way that you find is morally, ethically or commercially reprehensible?

    I put a lot of hard work and thought into what I post on-line, and it helps drive business to my company. Shouldn’t I have a say in how it is used by others?

    • Chris Crum says:

      That’s a whole other fish to fry I think. I don’t believe that was the case here, but an interesting point nonetheless.

  18. No! I would welcome anyone to link to my site, as with a link all content shows it is your information or creations.
    I would only have a problem if someone copied my content and then put it on their site as if it were there own! That is copyright infringement!

  19. Mel Menzies says:

    My understanding of the raison d’etre of the internet is that it was for the free dissemination of information. On that basis, it’s hard to understand that linking can be seen as a problem.

    But it can be! I invest a huge amount of time in my website, and in almost daily up-dates of my blog. My website exists to promote my books, and to bring help and hope to the hurting. In addition to Creative Writing courses, I blog on such sensitive issues as bereavement. And I was most upset to find that a bereavement poem which I wrote as part of my novel, A Painful Post Mortem, and which has attracted huge traffic to my website, has been abused again and again on numerous sites. All, I suspect, are the work of one person. Interspersed throughout my poem are click links. It’s hard to believe that someone could be so callous as to take a topic which is poignant to many people, and misuse it in this way.

    Despite my request for it to be removed, the poem continues to be exploited.

  20. Ejvind says:

    It’s just silly that someone is suing for linking. If content was copied and used without consent, then it’s a whole other business.

    Linking is what the web was made for. Without linking, we woulnd’t be able to have domain names, but we would have to remember a lot of numbers. How is that for an idea.

  21. Jonathan says:

    I’ve personally never heard of wickedlocal.com and I’m sure many others haven’t, but because of this lawsuit suddenly I have. Curiosity compels me to go check it out.

    Here’s the cynic’s view: the lawsuit is a great way to raise public awareness of their brand name, regardless of the outcome.

  22. Incognito says:

    How asinine… but typical of this litigious society and the plethora of frivolous law suits out there. You’d think they’d welcome all the traffic boston.com sent their way via linkage.

    A lot of my traffic comes from linkage. As long as I get credit, I don’t care who links to me.

  23. Thanks Chris for another great thought provoking article.

    I understand where some of these commentors are coming from. If your hard work and energy is being misused, that’s just wrong but I would love it if a news site such as the New York Times linked to my safety and security web site forum.

    The more exposure safety information gets, the better in my book!

  24. Guest says:

    The problem I see with your article and some of the comparisons you draw is that you make it sound as though we’re talking solely about links here. We’re not. We’re also talking about snippets from the articles, which are protected by copyright law.

    You also mention fair use. You’d be hard-pressed to make a fair use argument for publishing portions of someone else’s content on pages you’re using commercially (monetizing). You might have an argument if the NYT sites were offering those snippets as a part of a larger post of their own, or offering commentary on them with snippets supporting their points. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. In this case, the NYT sites are acting no differently than scraper sites.

    Remember a few things:

    1. Linking to content doesn’t equate to fair use or the right to publish.

    2. Material published in RSS feed format is still copyright-protected. Made available to readers for private, personal syndication needs does not equal giving others publication rights.

    3. There’s more to life than links and traffic. They’re right to be concerned about the image it presents.

    4. Many media companies charge for reprint or syndication rights to their content. This company has the right to choose whether it wants to allow it, deny it, or charge for it as well.

    5. It doesn’t matter you think the links are worth it. It doesn’t matter if I think the links are worth it. It only matters if the legal owner of the content thinks it’s worth it. The fact that many people ignore copyright laws thinking links should get them off the hook doesn’t make it true. The fact that some media outlets might be fine with that practice, does not mean all have to follow suit.

    If we were talking ONLY about links, as your title implies, I’d agree with you. I’d find the possibility of a lawsuit ridiculous. It’s the fact that you didn’t look beyond that to the full issue that I find fault with (and that I find a bit surprising).

    • Chris Crum says:

      I can see why you might not get the whole picture from the title, but luckily the rest of the article is there to accompany it, as it discusses the headlines and ledes.

      • Guest says:

        Um, no. It doesn’t address the issue at all. Mention it? Yes. But the sensationalist style of this article is practically nothing more than linkbait itself. It’s not a valid discussion in any way, as the author chose to lead on a misconception of what the issue really is by pretending it’s about linking. Nowhere in this article is any legally valid point made regarding the actual potential copyright violations. They’re skimmed over to blow a hot button issue out of proportion for ignorant readers who (reading the comments) obviously can’t exercise critical thinking well enough to look through the faulty information planted in their head by the title and sensationalist garbage here. Hell, just look at how many comments here assume we’re talking about nothing but linking a headline. Great job educating and informing readers. I’m actually ashamed to read any industry source advocating this kind of behavior, employing people who don’t even vaguely understand the laws they’re attempting to write about. While it’s no secret you don’t care (plenty of patsies to go around), consider this one reader lost.

  25. Don says:

    The New York Times is welcome to link to any of my humble content.

    Being located in Missouri chances are I would never stumble across anything that GateHouse Media Inc has to say if I didn’t find it via a link from someone.

    Maybe their servers can’t handle the traffic? If so shutting down their RSS feeds should help.


  26. EllenP Canada says:

    I think just a link is fine, and can even promote a website.

    BUT it is NOT proper when someone links/loads your page inside their frame and pretends it’s theirs. That is probably what is going on.

    • Chris Crum says:

      I don’t think they did that. I think they just had headlines/snippets and linked out to the original source.

  27. In a way, I can see where both sides are coming from, but I personally would love for any site to link to my content.

    Provided the snippet shown is only a few sentences or a paragraph (not the entire piece of content), I don’t really see anything wrong with it.

    To each his own, I guess.

  28. GiorgosK says:

    any day of the year any time of the day … I wont mind …

    Someone please help GateHouse to get it together …

    • Markus says:

      I kind of look upon the linking back to the original site’s page as a web/internet version of a bibliography. Remember high school reports where we had to list all our sources/authors of our material used to make the report?

      Well if this GateHouse has more traffic hitting their site than they can handle and want to limit links back to their site, I guess it’s their business.

      I’m with other posters here – NYT & Boston can link back to MY site(s) anytime!

  29. Judy Asman says:

    I would not mind and what is the matter with organizations like Gatehouse?

    Partial success of any Web site rests on the external links. Regardless of audience size, I also cannot see how this hurts the content owner since it is yet another avenue to get visitors into their site.

    I agree with Crum that it seems as if Gatehouse is not interested in building its Web traffic. Not to mention, who is Gatehouse anyway? If it weren’t for this debate, I wouldn’t know who they are.

    External links are so attractive to larger publications like The Washington Post and CNN, that they even feature Sphere widgets on their sites, which actually show which blogs link to specific articles (as long as the blog owners are registered with Sphere — for free …).

    That is so progressive because it motivates bloggers to give proper attribution to the source, if they reference points from those articles, while enabling the high profile news source to give shine to those in the blogosphere. It’s a win-win.

    Gatehouse represents a few site owners I’ve come across recently who are throwbacks to Web 1.0 world.

  30. Richard says:

    I’m continually frustrated by unauthorised external links to my content from sites that try to pass themselves off as providing original content and make money from my credible specialised intellectual property … which costs me thousands of dollars to create.

    • Judy Asman says:

      How is it they pass it off as their own content? Isn’t it clear once people click on the link that the material was written by you or someone from your site?

      Site owners need to make it clear who is the writer and who is the publisher.

      I think writers concerned about IP should not publish their work on the Web and save it for the print world. But the truth is, many of these people know their work will not get the visibility it will get on the Web.

    • Guest says:

      What exactly is unauthorized linking? Linking is allowed under the US law…. and I think nearly everywhere in the world.

      Don’t put your stuff out there if you don’t want it seen, since this is all that really happens with a link.

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