AP threatens aggregators like Google

While the Associated Press may have smartly diversified, leaving it less exposed to the ups and downs of the newspaper business, it's not quite willing to let its biggest customers twist in the wind. The news co-op says it plans to sue news aggregators who misappropriate news content online. And its No. 1 target? Google.

In a statement, AP Chairman Dean Singleton said AP would "pursue legal and legislative actions against" aggregators who do not properly license content. He also said the AP plans to track content to ensure its lawful use online, as well as build its own search engine designed to point users to the "latest and most authoritative sources." As an added bonus, AP announced $35 million in rate reductions and new content options--including a new one-year cancellation notice--for member newspapers.

While laudable, the new AP content tracking will be difficult--at best--to implement. As PaidContent.org notes, protecting news content is a lot like trying to pick up mercury from a shattered thermometer: It's virtually impossible. As proof, it pointed to the AP's missteps last summer in trying to control blogging content. While the AP threatened the Drudge Report with legal action, it eventually back-pedaled when faced with a firestorm of blogger criticism.

The same will be true with news aggregators. The AP membership doesn't want to bite the hand that feeds it. (Google sends nearly a billion clicks a month to newspaper publishers, resulting in nearly 400 openings of newspaper stories attributed directly to Google, according to Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker, quoted in the LA Times.) Can the AP really argue that a headline, blurb and link constitute copyright violation, especially when Google already currently pays the AP an (undisclosed) fee for the use of its material?

While lashing out at Google may seem sensible at first blush--it does seem to be weathering the economy far better than newspapers, which are shuttering at a breakneck pace--it does nothing to address the underlying problems facing the newspaper industry. They need to find a way to adapt and prosper in the digital age, and spinning lawsuits doesn't seem to be a very practical business model.

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