AP seeks to bring a bit of order to online news world

The Associated Press filed suit against news aggregator Meltwater News for copyright infringement accusing it of being a "parasitic distribution service that competes directly with traditional news sources without paying license fees to cover the costs of creating those stories."

In the news
The Associated Press filed suit against news aggregator Meltwater News for copyright infringement accusing it of being a "parasitic distribution service that competes directly with traditional news sources without paying license fees to cover the costs of creating those stories."

Why does it matter?
All the talk about the AP suit and whether sites such as Meltwater are traditional search engines entitled to some "fair use" protection may be missing the big picture - slowly but surely, order and rules are coming to online news distribution.

Ken Doctor, an affiliate analyst with OutSell and author of Newsonomics, suggests the suit, as well as AP's founding and spinoff of its news licensing service NewsRight, is part of a strategy to establish that the Web isn't a free-for-all anymore. "In creating a new model for monetizing content they're telling these sites, 'This may be semi-legitimate, but work with us to make it legitimate and we'll give you better content and better tags for that content according to topicality and geography,'" he says.

NewsRight CEO David Westin, former head of ABC News, adds, "There's a disconnect in the business model between the people who invest in the news and gather and report it and the people who are repackaging it. NewsRight is trying to bridge that gap. We're moving toward the value of news content on the Internet being recognized more directly."

Even with the advent of distribution channels, most PR pros feel a financially healthier news industry is good for them.

"Brands are realizing they can be their own content creators and storytellers," says David Leavitt, a VP in Weber Shandwick's Washington office. "The rules being adjudicated on fair use will also end up protecting them at some point."

Key facts
1. The AP filed a similar suit in 2009 against another mid-tier aggregator, All Headline News, and won.

2. The AP has already reached licensing deals with major online players such as Google, Yahoo, and AOL.

3. NewsRight is owned by 29 news organizations, including the AP and The New York Times Co.

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