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AP cracks down on unpaid use of articles on Web

Software on each article will state what uses are permitted and notify the news agency how the article actually is used.

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Taking a new hard line that news articles should not turn up on search engines and Web sites without permission, the Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to the rights to use it, and that notifies the AP about how the article is used.

Tom Curley, the AP's president and chief executive, said the company's position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Asked if that stance went further than the AP had gone before, he said, "That's right." The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond the AP, a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.

"If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we're going to do that," Curley said. The goal, he said, was not to have less use of the news articles, but to be paid for any use.

Search engines and news aggregators contend that their brief article citations fall under the legal principle of fair use. Executives at some news organizations have said they are reluctant to test the Internet boundaries of fair use, for fear that the courts would rule against them.

Curley declined to address the fair use question, or to say what action the AP would take against sites that use articles without licensing.

"We're not picking the legal remedy today," he said. "Let's define the scope of the problem."

News organizations already have the ability to prevent their work from turning up in search engines--but doing so would shrink their Web audience, and with it, their advertising revenues. What the AP seeks is not that articles should appear less often in search results, but that such use would become a new source of revenue.

Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for Google, said, "We believe search engines are of real benefit to news publishers, driving valuable traffic to their Web sites and connecting them with readers around the world." Some news executives agree and contend that a confrontation with search engines is misguided.

The new program, approved Thursday by the AP board, is being introduced in stages that reach into next year. It follows through on a statement the company made in April vowing to take on digital piracy not only on its own behalf, but also as the agent for the embattled newspaper industry.

Each article--and, in the future, each picture and video--would go out with what the AP called a digital "wrapper," data invisible to the ordinary consumer that is intended, among other things, to maximize its ranking in Internet searches. The software would also send signals back to the AP, letting it track use of the article across the Web.

Newspaper executives have said that by taking the lead, the AP ensures a unified approach, saves publishers from having to design their own software and circumvents possible charges of collusion against the papers.

Some popular news aggregators like The Huffington Post and Google News have licensing agreements, paying the AP for the use of its material. But no comparable agreements cover general Internet searches that turn up news articles with a variety of other results.

Executives at newspapers and other traditional news organizations have long complained about how some sites make money from their work, putting ads on pages with excerpts from articles and links to the sources of the articles.

Another complaint is that a link to an article sometimes leads to another secondhand user, not the original source, which can deprive the creator of some of the audience for its own site and the ads on it. Some less-well-known sites reprint articles outright, or large parts of them, without permission, a clearer copyright violation. But there is little consensus on how extensive that problem is for news organizations.

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