This is what’s killing the news business: piracy!

Fully-licensed stock photo, arrrrrrrrr!

Fully-licensed stock photo, arrrrrrrrr!

The AP is again trying to blame bloggers for bringing about the downfall of the news business. In an article yesterday, AP reports the findings of a recent study by Attributor Corp. which claims that 1.5 times more people read pirated articles than legitimate articles, housed at their originating organization, or at a fully-licensed AP site.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Attributor sees a Step Three: Profit! lining in that cloud:

However, the problem, flagged by copyright cop Attributor Corp., could turn into a golden opportunity if media companies figure out a way to mine advertising revenue from the traffic flocking to their pirated stories posted on blogs and other sites.

Attributor, which makes software that trolls the Internet for copyright violations, estimates the average Web publisher could collect more than $150,000 in additional revenue by selling ads alongside its unlicensed material.

It’s an unscientific estimate, based on an assumption that advertisers would pay $1 for every 1,000 pages of unauthorized material viewed on Web sites that aren’t owned by the copyright owners.

If anything, Attributor believes its calculations understate the opportunity for fleeced publishers. The Redwood City-based company already is working with a few media companies that could generate more than $1 million in annual advertising by enforcing their online copyrights, said Rich Pearson, Attributor’s vice president of marketing.

The problem, aside from still not understanding the benefit of having thousands of blogs pointing to your content? The excerpt above counts as piracy for the benefit of the study.

Attributor’s study, conducted from Sept. 12 through Oct. 12, reviewed 30 billion Web pages hosting copies of stories from more than 100 major Web sites. None of the sites belonged to Attributor’s current customers. After excluding all properly licensed content, Attributor then discarded any page that copied less than 50 percent or fewer than 125 words of a copyrighted story.

Oops. Just upped the word count again.

If Attributor – and the AP – wanted to find actual piracy, they should look for whole-article lifting. That happens every day, and should be attacked and stopped.

But focusing only on the actual pirates wouldn’t get them to the big shocking number they want, to make their wrong-headed point, now would it?

Why the AP will change or die

Here’s a shocker: An Associated Press editor thinks it’s a bad idea for local news organizations to withdraw from the AP.

Really?

In an awfully one-sided report on E&P, AP’s Kathleen Carroll says that going through with the move will burden local news organizations and their web teams, who will be unable to replace the service, not just in print, but in its multimedia offerings as well. “We are moving an ocean of content,” she says.

That’s great, but that doesn’t address the chief complaint against the AP: that they charge their members (a lot) for the privilege of giving away their locally-unique content in exchange for access to commodity national and world news now available through other channels.

The Associated Press is a collective – owned by the member organizations (read: newspapers) that exists to facilitate the sharing of news across the borders of cities and countries. So far, so good. If it didn’t exist, bloggers would probably be agitating for something like it.

But the problem is two-fold:

1. It was created at a time where its greatest benefit was carriage. Getting a news story or photo from halfway around the world was nothing short of a miracle. In 1849, when it was formed. Today, in the age of instant communication on the internet, the AP’s primary function has been rendered moot.

2. It unfairly treats original reporting by (mainly) newspaper companies as a commodity, laundering stories wholesale so that they can be picked up by competing media outlets (television, radio, local and national internet competitors) easily and with a clean conscience. This means that a story that a local paper may invest a week of time reporting can be re-reported with no effort – and no attribution – by the local tv station.

And, for this privilege, the current contracts have the newspapers paying dearly.

In a time when local newspapers are struggling to convince their markets that they’re valuable, the fact that the entire front page is leading the noon broadcast on Action News doesn’t help make the case.

Ultimately, there is a crying need for news organizations to share content. I think, though, that moves like Tribune’s to withdraw from the collective will become much more common in the coming months, as news organizations rethink the value of the AP in reaching the goal of better and more efficient news coverage. Also, bolder moves, such as those described by Scott Karp in his discussion of the link economy, may emerge as viable – and much less expensive – alternatives.

No matter what, the AP as we’ve known it, will not live to see 2010.