This item caught my eye while getting caught up on things over the holiday. GateHouse Media is suing New York Times Co., the owners of the Boston Globe, for using Gatehouse content verbatim on the Globe’s “Wicked Local” community news site.

GateHouse claims such use is a violation of copyright laws. NYT says what it is doing is not unlike what many others are already doing on community news sites.

This is a battle that will need to be closely watched next year. If GateHouse comes out victorious, it could have a chilling … no, make that ice age … effect on the further development of community news sites. And that chill could very well be felt from small bloggers to the Huffington Post … and even Google and Yahoo.

The question of whether content is proprietary has been the 800-pound gorilla in the community news room. As bloggers, aggregators and new products (like the Tribune Co. “breaking news” site) have been built on borrowing from other sources, those who have been borrowed from have, for the most part, looked the other way.

And with newspapers forced to cut back on its own resources, it is turning to linking to others … including competing sites … to provide information it can no longer obtain on its own.

GateHouse has decided to push the issue. If the courts rule this as an infringement of copyright laws, it will be interesting to see what transpires. Will this create a need for written permission to link to content? Will it create a new cottage industry for copyright lawyers? Or will it drive a knife through smaller, upstart sites as the big media companies suddenly say “mine” and don’t share?

Ironically, GateHouse has prided itself in being a leader in the transition into electronic media and community journalism. It will be interesting to see if it is the company that, effectively, kills off the new evolution.

* Here’s a wonderfully reflective piece on Chicago journalism. Makes me want to have a shot and a beer in honor of Mike Royko.

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