GateHouse Media Inc. filed a copyright infringement lawsuit Monday against the parent company of The Boston Globe, claiming the newspaper's new community Web sites use online material from GateHouse without permission.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Boston against The New York Times Co., GateHouse claimed Boston.com violated copyright and trademark laws by "reproducing, displaying and distributing" its newspaper headlines and original material published on its "Wicked Local" Web sites.
GateHouse, one of the nation's largest publishers of community newspapers, alleges in the lawsuit that Boston.com offers links that send readers directly to "Wicked Local" stories — bypassing ads posted on home pages that help fund the operation.
GateHouse says it set up electronic security measures to prevent users with a certain Boston.com address from scrapping content off its Web sites.
Still, GateHouse alleges, Boston.com intentionally circumvented those measures.
Based in New York's Rochester suburb of Fairport, GateHouse Media owns 97 daily newspapers, 400 other publications and 260 related Web sites reaching more than 10 million people in 21 states. Its Massachusetts publications include The Patriot Ledger, The Enterprise, the Newton TAB and the Daily News Tribune of Waltham.
Last month, Boston.com launched three "Your Town" community Web sites that cover the cities of Newton, Waltham and Needham. The Globe said that the three were the first in a series of "hyperlocal" Web sites to be launched.
GateHouse, however, claims that the New York Times Co. unit is building community-oriented sites that rely on the work of GateHouse journalists.
New York Times Co. spokeswoman Catherine Mathis, however, dismissed GateHouse Media's claims as "without merit," adding that the company believes it will prevail in the case.
"Boston.com's local pages, like hundreds of other news sites, aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published on the Web," Mathis said in a statement. "Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web."
The lawsuit alleges that Boston.com displays copyrighted content from GateHouse publications, The Boston Globe and other blogs in a way that creates a false impression that it has been licensed, authorized and endorsed to use the content.
People who click on Boston.com links are taken without notification to the "Wicked Local" report, increasing the potential for confusion on the source of the original report, according to the complaint.
The company is seeking an injunction against Boston.com, together with compensatory and punitive damages.
Dan Kennedy, an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University who also runs the Media Nation blog that is tracking the lawsuit, said the case could have national implications because it could settle questions on how much content one news organization can use from another.
"What the Globe is doing is what everybody says newspapers should be doing," said Kennedy, referring to aggregating content like Google News.
Kennedy, however, said the Boston.com model is different since it puts up advertising, unlike Google News.
GateHouse, he said, can make an argument that Boston.com is profiting from GateHouse journalism.
"It will be interesting to see the outcome," Kennedy said. "This is one of the most important stories about the newspaper business right now."
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