With David Carr’s argument that newspapers should ignore the Web only a few days old — not to mention Joel Brinkley’s suggestion that anti-trust violations are a viable business model — I thought the market for stupid newspaper-related activity was pretty well saturated. But apparently I was wrong. It seems that GateHouse Media, which owns a number of regional papers in the U.S., is suing the New York Times (NYSE:NYT) for linking to its content. Yes, you read that correctly — it is suing to stop the NYT from linking.
I am not making this up. If this sounds like a court case that might have occurred in the early 1990s, when sites of all kinds were just getting used to the Intarwebs, that’s because it is virtually a carbon copy of some of those early cases. The argument in a nutshell is that GateHouse is mad because the Times (or rather, the Boston Globe, which is owned by the same company) is “scraping” its headlines and the first paragraph of stories, and then “deep-linking” to the stories themselves, thereby copying the site’s content and stealing its traffic (as Mike Masnick at TechDirt points out, GateHouse is also apparently suing for breach of contract, because its articles are Creative Commons-licensed, but with a non-commercial license).
But surely this is the way the Internet works, you are saying to yourself. And so it is. GateHouse apparently doesn’t like the way the Internet works. That puts the company in the same category as the World Newspaper Association and forward-thinking types like Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell, who have repeatedly criticized Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) for linking to news stories from its Google News search engine, or the Belgian newspapers that sued Google over similar tactics. All of these groups are trying to turn back time, to play King Canute with the rolling wave that is the Web, instead of trying to find ways of using that wave to their mutual advantage.
From the way the lawsuit is described by Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist and elsewhere, it sounds as though some of this is about GateHouse and the NYT competing for traffic to their local blog and content sites. Regardless, as Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider puts it, this is still a case of “dying newspapers suing each other.” What could be more pathetic? Update: I checked Howard Owens’ blog to see if he was talking about this, because he is (or was) the director of digital publishing for GateHouse, but he hasn’t updated his blog in a month or so.