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Associated Press to impose online licensing fees

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The Associated Press will begin charging newspapers and broadcasters to post its stories, photos and other content online, a pricing shift that reflects the growing power of the Internet to lure audiences and advertisers from more established media.

Tom Curley, AP president and CEO, announced the change today at the annual meeting of the 156-year-old news cooperative.

Most of the 15,000 news outlets that buy AP's news, sports, business and entertainment coverage — The Seattle Times among them — have been allowed to "re-purpose" the same material online at no extra cost since 1995. At that time, graphical Web browsers were just beginning to transform the Internet from an esoteric computer network to a mass medium.

The new pricing policy, effective Jan. 1, begins to shift some of the funding of AP to the growing online market, as technological advances and digital devices continue to make it ever easier for people to get their news whenever and however they want it.

"The need for online licensing is clear," Curley said during a speech at the meeting in the Masonic Auditorium, attended by member publishers, editors and broadcasters. "For The Associated Press to endure during this digital transition, we must be able to preserve the value and enforce the rights of our intellectual property across the media spectrum."

About 300 commercial Web sites, including popular destinations such as Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo, Time Warner Inc.'s AOL and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, already have been buying AP content, said Jane Seagrave, the news cooperative's director of new media markets.

But price increases are often a prickly issue for the AP because it's a not-for-profit cooperative that is owned by its customers — the traditional media that form its membership.

The AP expects to offset the costs of the new online licensing fees by temporarily reducing its annual membership rate increases, Chairman Burl Osborne said.

These rates — known within the AP as "assessments" — have climbed by an average of 2.75 percent annually over the past decade.

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