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Times Co., Washington Post Expand Policing of Article Pilfering

New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Associated Press and 26 other news companies began a joint venture today to police websites that use their articles without consent and demand fees for legitimate use.

The NewsRight venture is a for-profit entity spun out of an Associated Press program started two years ago to look at ways to stem the proliferation of pilfered content online, known as “scraping,” and capitalize on a news-reading audience that is migrating to the Web. Large news organizations have been suffering financial losses as a result of scraping, according to David Westin, 59, the former head of Walt Disney Co.’s ABC News who became NewsRight’s chief executive officer in April.

Digital media companies such as AOL Inc.’s Huffington Post have increased audience and advertisers while traditional publishers have seen revenue and readership declines, leading news operations like the New York Times to take better command of its online business. The Times introduced an online subscription in March that generated more than 324,000 paying customers as of the end of September, according to the company.

“The overall appetite for news in the country is going up not down,” Westin said in an interview. “At the same time the money to hire professional reporters is going down -- there’s something wrong when those two things are happening.”

NewsRight, which has more than $30 million in investments and a full-time staff of 11 people, has been been gathering data on sites that scrape articles. Many of the sites will take an article wholesale from a local newspaper and surround it with advertising, according to Westin.

“Often its websites you wouldn’t recognize, but they often come up in a search,” he said.

ASCAP for Newspapers

Proprietary software developed by the Associated Press lets NewsRight understand how much traffic these sites generate from the content. The individual news organizations will decide what to do with that information, according to Westin, who said in some cases these websites are making fair use of articles.

“The Huffington Post may rewrite a paragraph from a Times piece and it’s not in the language of the original report and it’s not necessarily something to be concerned about,” he said.

NewsRight’s tracking program was designed to ease the burden on publishers who often must spend time and resources seeking out sites that violate copyrights and determine which ones may be profiting the most from their content.

The larger aim for NewsRight is to capitalize on interest among digital enterprises that want to legitimately use content, much the way the music industry manages rights through ASCAP, which helps musicians get paid for their songs played in public.

“I’m really confident there’s real value being captured by other companies that’s not being brought back to the newspapers that create the articles,” Westin said. “We hope to change that.”

Other investors in NewsRight include Advance Publications Inc., Axel Springer Group, Hearst Newspapers, McClatchy Co., Media General Inc. and the E.W. Scripps Co.

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