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AP Preps Legal Battle Against Online News Aggregators

The AP has issued licenses to Google, Yahoo, and others to use some of its news content, while newspapers generally have not.

The Associated Press board on Monday warned that it would take legal action if necessary to stop online news aggregators from using its content and that of member newspapers without permission.

In its annual meeting in San Diego, AP chairman Dean Singleton said the news cooperative, which is owned by its membership, would take legal and legislative actions against unlicensed sites, while working with Web portals and other partners who properly license content.

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," Singleton said at the meeting, according to an AP statement.

Those "legal theories" apparently refer to the "fair use" legal doctrine often cited by news aggregators and search engines, such as Google, in displaying a headline and snippets from news articles in search results. Singleton did not name any sites that were targets of the initiative.

The AP has issued licenses to Google, Yahoo, and others to use some of its news content, while newspapers generally have not. AP executives told The New York Times that the policy is aimed at major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and their competitors, and at news aggregators, such as the Huffington Post. The initiative is not meant to stop these sites and others from using news gathered by the AP and its members, but to make sure they are compensated for their work, the Times said.

The AP said it would develop a system to track content distributed online to determine whether it's being legally used. AP president Tom Curley said the news agency also would develop its own search engine to point users to the latest and "most authoritative" sources of breaking news.

Search engines and news aggregators have long argued that links on their sites have benefited content owners by directing traffic to their sites. Indeed, Google's news site is a major source of traffic for many news organizations.

A Google spokesman said publishers can easily implement technology to prevent Google from indexing their Web content to drop in search results. "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," he said in an e-mail.

However, content producers argue that the links often fail to direct readers to the originator of the news, and send Web browsers instead to another site that has paraphrased the information.

The issue of compensation in the news business has taken on more urgency as newspapers have been hammered by the loss of ad revenue to the Web. The latest casualties include the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which owner the Hearst migrated entirely to the Web in March, and the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News in Denver, which EW Scripps closed.

Other major newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Detroit Free Press, are being forced to drastically streamline operations in order to stay afloat.

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