Case Studies/GateHouse Media

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For Newspapers to give up Copyright is a remarkable step. — Dan Kennedy, Northeastern University


GateHouse Media is a newspaper conglomerate that owns 75 daily and 231 weekly newspapers across America. It is the largest local media company in America. In December 2006, they rolled Creative Commons licensing across 96 ( sites with the sole purpose of switching copyright licensing to Creative Commons licensing. Their intention was to encompass most of the 121 daily and weekly newspapers both online and in print in Massachusetts, with Creative Commons Licenses.


LICENCE: : Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

MEDIA: Local Newspapers both Online and in Print

LOCATION: Across Massachusetts with plans of expansion throughout other states in America.


“We operate in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘hyper-local’ or local community market within the media industry. Media companies that serve this segment provide highly focused local content and advertising that is generally unique to each market they serve.” – GateHouse Media’s prospectus 2006.

GateHouse Media represents itself as a company for local community papers. They boast of providing superior coverage, which has allowed them to reach 10 million readers nationally, all by being not only local but ‘hyper’ local.

Their business model is to be the preeminent provider of local content and advertising. They promise to ensure higher levels of exposure for local advertisers towards targeted markets. Research has shown that the delivery of advertising in this way has proven to be beneficial. Personalising the news for local communities has given it more meaning and has not only captured the attention and interests of the community, but raised advertising revenue exponentially.


GateHouse Media have used an Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported licence.

“GateHouse Media are using the most restrictive of the Creative Commons licenses”. Charlene Li, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.

The Creative Commons license, Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works, is the most restrictive licence of the six available options. Creative Commons note -

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

This kind of license seems a clever ploy by GateHouse Media. Howard Owens, Director of digital publishing for GateHouse explains -

"It's really not a big change from how a lot of newspaper sites handle content -- free non-commercial use, but generally only if you ask. This licensing removes the middle man of asking, because now it's explicitly stated that free non-commercial use is permitted. It's also a way to draw attention to: feel free to redistribute our content in non-commercial ways, please just be sure to link back to the originating site."


Analysis of GateHouse Media’s decision to CC license its and sites, has seen speculation that it is a response to the cut-and-paste world of weblogs, where news is quite often quoted and pages linked back to the original source of information. Creative Commons Licensing in this circumstance has meant that this kind of behaviour is legal, as long as bloggers attribute and link their work back to the original article.

“For a major publisher with significant numbers of people reading to be doing this is great.” Mia Garlick, former chief council of the Creative Commons Foundation.

Major advantages can be found when using Creative Commons Licensing. The ability to, look, like, copy, comment and link to original, has seen greater numbers of visitors to originating sites. This increased traffic flow will draw advertisers to Creative Commons Licensed sites as the more visitors there are, the more revenue is to be found. When implementing the Creative Commons License, GateHouse Media had a main objective, to move the local newspaper sites firmly into the “two=way” web and point them into the direction of greater openness.

This type of licensing has the potential to boost all traffic to the site, increase exposure to advertising, and in turn impact advertising revenue. Not to mention the increase in search result status in the many search engines available.

It provides for greater discussion of pressing issues, by allowing bloggers and discussion forums to freely copy and attribute the works of the originating item. It allows open communication whilst maintaining an open revenue stream through targeted advertising.

To open up the site to user-submitted content, GateHouse Media used open-source web framework Zope as the backbone for the TownOnline operations. The move from commercial software to open source software, had many advantages.

Going to open source has obvious “the price is right” advantages, but may also confer stability: small software companies fail at rates comparable to restaurants, a famously tough business. Such business failures leave a software company’s customers stranded on a platform that won’t be updated as time goes on, and which they can’t update themselves, since they don’t have access to the source code. Sharing content, letting non-professionals submit content, and connecting with a global network of open-source tinkerers reveal a picture of a firm that’s open to the wide world of the web. That doesn’t sound like your average media company, whose value is based on control of unique content, content whose value is boosted by exclusivity, not by contributions from Just Anybody. But instead of plugging leaks, GateHouse has taken out a Creative Commons can opener and put a hole the size of the Internet in the side of Battleship Content. Lisa Williams


Many argue that although strict, the Creative Commons licence remains a beneficial and exciting move.

It seems that many news publishing companies are starting to note the benefits of a Creative Commons License. It is hoped that these benefits will soon be realised and implemented in Australia’s news publishing environment.

"I've been geeked out about CC for a while because it is so perfect for the digital media age, an era where there is true economic value in sharing. In fact, in the present era, failure to share is detrimental to a publisher,"

Howard Owen - Director of Digital Publishing for GateHouse.