A.P. Seeks to Rein in Sites Using Its Contenthttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/business/media/07paper.html?ref=technology
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
Published: April 6, 2009
Taking aim at the way news is spread across the Internet, The Associated Press said on Monday that Web sites that used the work of news organizations must obtain permission and share revenue with them, and that it would take legal action against those that did not.
A.P. executives said they were concerned about a variety of news forums around the Web, including major search engines like Google and Yahoo and aggregators like the Drudge Report that link to news articles, smaller sites that sometimes reproduce articles whole, and companies that sell packaged news feeds.
They said they did not want to stop the appearance of articles around the Web, but to exercise some control over the practice and to profit from it.
The group’s new stance applies to thousands of news organizations whose work is distributed by The A.P., as well as its own material, but the debate about unauthorized use has focused on newspapers, which are in serious financial trouble, and which own The A.P. The policies were adopted by the A.P. board, composed mostly of newspaper industry executives.
The A.P. will “work with portals and other partners who legally license our content” and will “seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don’t,” the A.P. chairman, William Dean Singleton, said Monday in a speech at the group’s annual meeting, in San Diego. “We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories.”
News aggregators and search companies have long asserted that collecting snippets of articles — usually headlines and a sentence or two — is allowed under the legal doctrine of “fair use.” News organizations have been reluctant to test that idea in court, and it is still not clear whether The A.P. is willing to test the fair use doctrine.
“This is not about defining fair use,” said Sue A. Cross, a senior vice president of the group, who added several times during an interview that news organizations want to work with the aggregators, not against them. “There’s a bigger economic issue at stake here that we’re trying to tackle.”
But the details remain to be worked out, she said, including how to limit use of articles and how to share revenue. When asked if The A.P. would require a licensing agreement before a search engine could show specific material, Ms. Cross said, “that could be an element of it,” but added, “it’s not that formed.”
One goal of The A.P. and its members, she said, is to make sure that the top search engine results for news are “the original source or the most authoritative source,” not a site that copied or paraphrased the work.
The A.P. will also pursue sites that reproduce large parts of articles, rather than using brief links, and it is developing a system to track articles online and determine whether they were used legally.
Neither Mr. Singleton nor a statement released by The A.P. mentioned any adversary by name. But many news executives, including some at The A.P., have voiced concern that their work has become a source of revenue for Google and other sites that can sell search terms or ads on pages that turn up articles.
At a time when newspaper revenue is collapsing and some papers are closing, the prospect of a share of revenue from Yahoo or Google is more tempting than ever. But executives at some news organizations have called the ire at the search engines misguided, saying that much of their own Web traffic arrives through links on search pages.
“We believe search engines are of real benefit to newspapers, driving valuable traffic to their Web sites and connecting them with new readers around the world,” said Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesman. “We believe that both Google Web Search and Google News are fully consistent with copyright law — we simply link users to the site at which the news story appears.”
Mario Ruiz, a spokesman for Huffington Post, said that the site is an A.P. client, and “we pay for everything we use of theirs.” He declined to address the idea of paying for links to other news organizations.
In essence, The A.P. has taken on the role of acting as a representative for the entire industry, particularly the newspapers — including The New York Times and virtually all large newspapers — that are the group’s owners. Some owners have rebelled against The A.P. in the last year, protesting that it charges them too much.
“The A.P. is trying to assert its value to the member newspapers,” by shifting the industry discussion “from fair use to fair share,” said Ken Doctor, an analyst at Outsell, a media research firm.
The A.P. and other wire services have licensing agreements with Google, Yahoo and others, for some of their content to appear on those sites’ news pages, while newspapers generally do not. But general Web searches on those sites often turn up wire service material that is not covered by the agreements.
In parts of Europe, newspapers have gone further in trying to block unauthorized use of their work online. In 2007, a Belgian court blocked Google from using articles from some newspapers in that country, and Danish newspapers warned Google away from using their material without first reaching some kind of agreement. Several days ago, the British newspaper industry asked the government to intervene on its behalf to force Google to stop using newspaper articles without paying for them.