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Newspapers want search engines to pay

Tired of watching Google, others profit from their content, newspapers mull their options and consider suing.

The Internet has undercut the businesses of newspapers, book publishers and magazines for years and now these media are looking for ways to fight back.

Web search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, collect headlines and photos for their users without compensating the publishers a cent, according to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), which announced Tuesday that it intends to "challenge the exploitation of content" by the Googles and MSNs of the Web.

The Paris-based group, which represents 18,000 newspapers, isn't discussing what action it may take. WAN executives said in a statement that they want to explore their options and added that they understand search engines help them in one way: aggregating content and packaging it for consumers. But WAN noted that Web companies also "built their business models in large part on taking content for free."

Agence France Presse has already filed suit against Google, alleging that Google News offers its photos and stories without permission.

The move by WAN comes against a backdrop of layoffs, falling profits and shrinking readership at the world's newspapers. Huge numbers of companies have shifted their advertising dollars over to the Net and polls show a growing number of consumers obtain their news from the Web.

On Tuesday, Knight Ridder reported a 22 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit from the same period a year ago. Deep-pocketed newspapers, such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have reduced staffing.

At the same time, the search engines have flourished.

"The irony is that these search engines exist, largely, because of the traditional news and content aggregators and profit at their expense," WAN President Gavin O'Reilly said in a statement.