It’s going to take some time to think through the implications of the settlement (PDF link) announced today between the New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT) and GateHouse Media (GHS), over the issue of NYT’s Boston.com site aggregating content from local sites belonging to GateHouse, but my first instinct is that it is almost unrelentingly bad. Why? Because while the settlement is not a legally-binding precedent — the one piece of what might be called good news — it still involves the New York Times voluntarily refraining from what many would argue is perfectly defensible behavior. As Joshua Benton notes in his post at the Nieman Journalism Lab, that could well embolden other publications to launch similar cases, on the assumption that if the NYT caved then someone else might too.
The Times tries to argue that this settlement does nothing to change the way it approaches linking to or even quoting from external sources on its websites, but that clearly isn’t the case at all. It completely changes the way the paper does that, but only when the content involves a GateHouse website. The NYT claims that it will continue to link to and quote from external sources whenever it wants, but will no longer do so with GateHouse content (under the agreement it can continue to link, but can no longer aggregate content in an automated way, and has agreed not to quote from a GateHouse site).
(for the full post, see the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)