Back in the mid-90s there were a series of lawsuits over "deep linking" practices, where people who didn't quite understand how the web worked would sue other sites for linking to them without permission. We still see this happen occasionally, such as with the Associated Press's ridiculous assertion that various other sites shouldn't link with a headline in a snippet from an article. However, it appears that some smaller news organizations are just as clueless about the internet as well. Reader Ben writes in to point out that GateHouse Media, a publisher of some local free news publications in Massachusetts is suing the NY Times for linking to them. The full complaint shows a near complete misunderstanding of how the internet works. You can read it here:
Basically, the big complaint is that Boston.com (which is owned by the NY Times) has a local section, where it links to GateHouse publications. It does so in ways that are clearly fair use. It includes the headline and the very first sentence of the GateHouse articles, with a link to the full version. This is driving traffic to GateHouse's publications and clearly not taking anything away from GateHouse. But GateHouse claims this is copyright infringement. Furthermore, GateHouse claims that there is trademark infringement because Boston.com accurately shows where the content originally is from and tells you what site the link goes to. In other words, it's helping to promote GateHouse's properties. GateHouse, instead, claims this is blatant trademark infringement. Even more ridiculously, GateHouse claims that this effort by Boston.com, which helps get it more attention and drive more traffic to its properties is somehow unfair competition. I only wish we had competition like that.
Perhaps most interesting of all, GateHouse is charging the NY Times with breach of contract, because (of all things) GateHouse uses a Creative Commons license on its content -- though it uses the Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives license -- and it claims that Boston.com's use is commercial, and thus a contractual violation. This highlights the problem Creative Commons has with its non-commercial licenses. It's pretty clear the intent of such licenses is to prevent a company from reselling the works. But when it's being used to directly drive more traffic to the original site, it's difficult to see how any sane person would see that as a violation of the intent.
Either way, the end-result of all of this is that other websites have already come to the conclusion that it's just not worth linking to GateHouse sites at all. Consider it a stupid lawyers tax. Suing people for sending you traffic has to be, perhaps, the most braindead business strategy around, these days.