A lawsuit between Gatehouse Media and the New York Times Co., owner of the Boston Globe has recently been resolved.

According to numerous news sources, Boston.com and it’s new “Your Town” websites were accused of scraping headlines, ledes and links from Gatehouse’s “Wicked Local” websites.

Web scraping or harvesting is described as a method to extract content from a website. – From www.kneoteric.com/knowledge-base/glossary/glossary.html

While scraping is not inherently evil, it can present issues of plagiarism and other editorial and business issues. There are a lot of websites that compile or aggregate certain headlines and content with much success and it’s perfectly OK. However, as Boston.com and Gatehouse’s web sites were in direct competition in the same regional market, the federal court in Boston decided that in this case, scraping was not entirely on the up-and-up.

The case may also set a fascinating precedent that has a far-reaching affect on editorial websites and linking behavior in general. More importantly, it is a case that should be considered extremely important for Helium writers who use links in their articles to great (and not so great) effect.

As Helium does not allow plagiarism at any level, scraping of content word-for-word is strictly prohibited. However, members are allowed to link to related sites and articles that fit into the context of what they are writing about. It is also OK to summarize or paraphrase certain passages on other sites that you may link to. In either case, this will ensure that you are not copying editorial property of another company or person.

Referring to headlines in your article is a different case. If you have an article about, let’s say, the reproductive habits of the Duck-billed Platypus and to support a new finding on a recent scientific article in somewhere, It is OK to write something like:

New findings have been recently made regarding the season that the Duck-billed Platypus prefers to mate. In the article called “Name of Article” [with link inserted] in the “name of publication” so and so states that…

Titles on Helium should also be looked at differently. Many readers and writers may find that a title on Helium may also exist on Associated Content, About.com and some random blog. Many titles such as “How to do this,” “A guide to that,” or “Tips for doing such and such” are considered public domain types of titles. They are commonly used by everyone and are recognized as such.

However, if a member decides to submit a title such as “The classification of the genome for aggressiveness found in the saliva of the leaf-cutter ants of Belize” is probably a no-go because you are copying a distinct and unique title that was specifically written about a new concept that is not considered public domain–unless it’s your original article. However, if you added “Analyzing Joe Schmoe’s article called …” at the beginning, you recognize the original source and that, as they say, is kosher.

The case between Gatehouse Media and the New York Times Co. is not the first time that an online editorial entity had an issue with another for links and scraping, and it will likely not be the last. But as a Helium member, do the safe and ethical thing by providing context, credit  and links any chance you get.

While you may not get immediate results, you will improve your reputation as an online writer of contextual substance with sound ethics.

(Disclosure: Helium.com has a business relationship with Gatehouse Media and maintains a strictly neutral voice in this case. Helium.com, it’s staff and it’s members were not involved in this case and did not participate in creation of any content involved in this case.)

“Hyperlocal” seems to be the buzzword these days. Everyone wants information about what’s going on in their neck of the woods, and they want it to be professionally reported and crowdsourced (community provided).

And why not? Many local papers don’t provide nearly enough information that’s usable or it’s “gated” and buried on their site. Their small newsrooms can only gather and publish a finite amount of information. Larger websites that are better at providing this often have information pertaining only to big cities, which doesn’t help folks who live way out in the ‘burbs or in remote areas.

With writers from around the globe from communities big and small, Helium is happy to help where we can. Check out our Local Guide channels for information about your community, such as the best places for a first date in Boston or where to find the best burgers in Chicago. We cover a number of large American cities and are on the cusp of expanding to smaller communities as well.

If you don’t see your town, shoot us a line about where you live and suggest at least 10 titles that would interest folks in your neck of the woods. If we can get them up, you can spread the word to other people in your community and they can also write what they know. Imagine a place where the average Joe can finally share his or her expertise about what’s going on, where to find it or how to do it. And get paid for doing it!