The Associated Press Picks a Fight with Google, Biting the Hand that Feeds

In a move that could change the way news is disseminated and found on the Web, the Associated Press (AP) has declared that its news articles should no longer be freely indexed in search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo without permission. AP President Tom Curley’s statement means that even minimal use of a news article online should require a licensing agreement.

Curley was further quoted in the New York Times, in an apparent jab at Google, saying “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.” Additionally, the AP announced that it would enforce its position by introducing an unspecified Web tool that would monitor AP article placement across the Web and enable the organization to better defend against what it views as digital piracy.

The announcement could have widespread impact not only on Web and mobile search, but also on blogging and news aggregator sites that use even snippets of AP articles without a content license.

A resurgence in paid content models has been gathering steam for at least a year as a rash of newspapers and magazines, hit hard by a steep decline in advertising, have closed. The AP’s move, however, goes to a place that few would have predicted. At a time when monetization of online news seems inevitable, you’ve got to wonder how wise it is for AP to be picking this particular battle.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds. Google and to a lesser extent Bing and Yahoo, have become the de facto home page for every news organization worldwide. News sites featuring AP news garner a significant share of their search traffic based on search engine queries, Google News Alerts and other related sources. Should any of the major search engines decide to suddenly stop indexing AP news articles based on the AP’s hard line, the ramifications to advertising-dependant online news sites could be devastating, if not fatal.

A Google spokesman issued a brief response statement: “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.”

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