Associated Press wants users to pay up

The Associated Press, the news cooperative owned by 1,500 newspapers nationwide, as well as about 5,000 radio and TV stations, announced this week that it was going to demand payment from online publications that use its content without paying.

An article in The New York Times about the issue quotes William Dean Singleton, chair of the newspaper governing board of the cooperative and founder of MediaNews Group, which owns such papers as the Denver Post and the Detroit News. Singleton says that the AP plans to "seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don't" license and pay for AP content.

Good for the AP. It's about time.

As a writer and former newspaper editor, who for the last four years has aggregated news online for a corporate client using a variety of online sources, I'd hazard a guess that at least 75% of online English-language news content was originally reported by the Associated Press and its member newspapers. Of course, CNN, Reuters News, Agence France-Press and a relative handful of magazines, trade publications, some TV networks and a few websites do original reporting. But most of what passes as daily news on the Internet is derivative -- recycled information and commentary based on original research and reporting by AP and newspaper staffers.

The AP has reporters, photographers and videographers all over the world, including offices with dozens of news-gatherers in major cities in all 50 states and most foreign countries. AP reporters cover everything from local traffic accidents to governments, businesses, sports, health, wars, politics, famine and pestilence worldwide. Staffers work 365 days a year to provide a wealth of clearly written, carefully substantiated reports that are unrivaled in quality or quantity by any competing news source.

This kind of news-gathering is expensive. The bill is paid by subscribers, including television and radio stations and websites of all sorts. But the biggest part of the tab goes to the cooperative's core owners, the same daily newspapers that are having a tough economic time this year. Not only do member newspapers pay a substantial annual subscription fee, they also must make a commitment to share the news stories they report.

The AP didn't single out any single aggregator of its content for blame, but some commentators leaped to the conclusion that the offender has to be Google News,and Google CEO Eric Schmidt responded by defending Google's relationship with the AP.

Whatever the target, why should any entity whose business uses AP content -- even second hand -- earn money off of it without compensating the originators? For that matter, why shouldn't we all pay to play online?

Information may want to be free -- but I don't see Google, or Yahoo! settling for that business model.
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