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AP Readies for War with Aggregators

At the Associated Press annual meeting, a new battle cry was sounded for the woebegone newspaper industry:

"We're as mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!"

That came from William Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews and AP chairman during his keynote speech in San Diego. Singleton made it clear that the AP, a cooperative formed primarily by U.S. newspapers, will vigorously protect its content and demand revenue-sharing from web portals where it sees fit:

"(We will) work with portals and other partners who legally license our content ... and seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don't. We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories."

Neither Singleton nor anyone at the AP named their potential adversaries, but it's reasonable to surmise that their potential targets may range from Internet behemoths Google and Yahoo to news aggregators such as the Huffington Post. One of the contentious issues involves the use of excerpts; the other, on the portals' use of snippets of newspaper articles to generate ad revenue.

Google was quick to respond to this potential challenge, saying that any confrontation over fair use would be misguided.

"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," Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told the New York Times. "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."

Singleton was light on details as to how the AP plans to pursue what he termed "new rules of engagement." But he insisted that print media isn't dead, it just needs to do better - particularly by protecting its most valuable assets - in order to maximize its earning potential:

"I think our industry has been very timid about protecting our content, probably because we've done so well in the past few years that we didn't recognize that misappropriation is as serious an issue as it is. As we're now relooking at business models, it's become clear that we must protect the rights of our content.

We perhaps have been timid about enforcing [those rights]. No more. We own the content but we've let those who spend very little, if any, get the most advantage from it. (But) I am very confident that we will develop new models that help us get more."