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AP fighting to reclaim revenue from Web portals

At its annual meeting today, Associated Press board of directors outlined plans to fight back against online portals and news aggregators that post news content without paying licensing fees to the AP and its member newspapers.

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," AP Chairman Dean Singleton said at the group's meeting in San Diego. "We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it any more."

In a practical sense, this is the AP taking a stand for the old-line industry against the onslaught of the Web. Online portals like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) have played an important role in hollowing out the revenue model of the traditional news industry. News aggregators like the Drudge Report and Huffington post have done their share, as well.

The reality is that the online advertising economy has treated the aggregators pretty well, while the newspaper industry has been leaking money like a sieve.

So the AP, a cooperative owned collectively by its roughly 1,500 newspaper members, is fighting back. The board, whose members include prominent newspaper executives like the chief executives of Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune, said it plans file suit against Web sites that publish AP content without proper licensing fees. Without naming Google or any others by name, Singleton said that the AP plans to work with portals and aggregators who legally license its content, and "to seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don't."

The AP's move comes amidst considerable [hand-wringing](/commentary/article.php/3806816/If+Paid+Web+Content+Is+Dead+Are+Newspapers.htm) over what is to be done to preserve the journalism industry. Defenders of the traditional media outlets point out that most of the online journalism practiced today still rides on the back of newspapers, where professionals with the luxury of the time to stay with a story investigate and break news that is then summarized, analyzed and debated across the Web.

Just last week, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch told his audience at an event in Washington that "people are getting used to getting everything on the Net for free. That's going to have to change."

Murdoch gave voice to what's been on the mind of executives throughout the industry when he suggested that news organizations insist on some kind of revenue-sharing model before making their content available to the search engines, news portals and aggregators.

"The question is should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?" Murdoch said in a characteristic bit of rhetorical flourish.

Four days later, in an industry rallying cry that bore more than a passing resemblance to some of the dispatches from the RIAA, the AP announced that it is developing a system to ferret out unlawful use of its content around the Internet.