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TotalNews, publishers settle suit

In a key copyright case, TotalNews reaches a settlement with a handful of media companies that had sued the site for displaying their news stories.

In a case that raised difficult copyright questions for hyperlinking to Web sites, TotalNews has reached a settlement with a handful of media companies that had sued the site for displaying their news stories.

According to Roman Godzich, president of TotalNews, his five-person company has reached an agreement with the plaintiffs in the case--media giants the Washington Post, Times Mirror, Time Warner, CNN, Dow Jones, and Reuters New Media--not to display their news stories within a frame on the TotalNews Web site. However, the media companies agreed to grant TotalNews a "linking license" so that it can still hyperlink to stories on their sites.

Like a number of other sites, including NewsHub, TotalNews lists stories that appear on sites around the Web. CNET's NEWS.COM also offers hyperlinks to news stories on other Web sites. However, TotalNews differed from other sites in that it presented news stories within a frame on its own site, which includes its logo and banner advertisements.

In February, the plaintiffs in the case filed a lawsuit arguing that TotalNews was violating their copyrights. TotalNews claimed that it was actually helping the sites by delivering more visitors, but the site refrained from framing the plaintiffs' stories last month.

A number of other Web sites, such as MSNBC and National Public Radio, have agreed to allow TotalNews to continue to display their stories within the site's frame.

Godzich also said that there is a clause in TotalNews's settlement with the media companies that allows them to revoke their linking license at any time. However, Godzich said, even if the companies revoke their licenses with TotalNews, he intends to continue linking to their sites because they must still go to court to prove copyright infringement.

"I would argue that linking is no more a copyright violation than a phone number," Godzich said. "I believe linking is a fundamental right on the Internet."