Updated: AP Brings In Ex-ABC News Chief Westin To Head Licensing Group

Former *ABC* News President David Westin is joining the Associated Press to manage the News Licensing Group, the wire service’s digital rights organization for news providers launching this summer. The News Licensing Group will oversee content and data from AP and more than 1,000 digital publications.

Westin, who resigned from ABC News after implementing massive job cuts at the division, will be president and CEO of the new unit, which was created by the AP Board of Directors with the intention of protecting and license original news content to the growing array of digital communications products and services.

Licensing digital content is extremely important to the AP, given the weakness of its newspaper members and the need to find new revenue streams. Furthermore, the use of digital photos produced by its newspaper members is also seen as a possible lifeline. By promising to safeguard those assets, the AP can increase its value to members who have been struggling against aggregating as many consider putting at least some content behind paywalls.

If their content can be exploited by outside entities without sharing the revenue, news outlets will find themselves squeezed even more. That’s one of the reasons the AP fought so hard against street artist Shepherd Fairey’s appropriation of an AP photograph for his iconic Hope image. (The two sides recently settled their legal dispute.)

The group will launch this summer. More than two dozen organizations have already signed on as participants, the AP said.

At the same time, Srinandan Kasi will shift from VP and general counsel of the AP to serve as chief operating officer and EVP of the Licensing Group.

The Licensing Group will be owned by its founding news organizations, which the AP plans to identity sometime in the next few weeks. Membership will be open to domestic and international news organizations.

Updated: While the AP has worked to establish the Licensing Group for the past two years, it will ultimately be a separate entity, though the wire service will retain a minority stake in it, Westin told paidContent.

By creating an entity that can safeguard news outlets’ content and copyrights in an ever-widening world of online aggregators, the AP feels that what’s good for the industry in general is also beneficial to its business specifically. In order for that to work effectively and appeal to as many content producers as possible, the Licensing Group has to have a large degree of independence, Westin said.

“We want to make sure that this isn’t a service that’s perceived as favoring any one party,” said Westin, who officially starts the new job in early May.

The role at the Licensing Group reflects the two main facets of Westin’s career the began before and ultimately continued through his 14-year career at ABC (NYSE: DIS). Westin was a partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering prior to serving as Capital Cities/ABC’s general counsel. He was promoted to president of ABC News after serving as head of the ABC Television Network. In the latter role, he created ABC News Now, a broadband only news channel that took early advantage of digital video.

“I was on the AP board for nine years, so I was already very familiar with the Licensing Group initiative,” Westin said. “I started talking to them about the job shortly after I left ABC and it did seem like a good fit with a lot of the things I had worked on before and during my time at the network.”

While his legal experience was helpful in crafting an online strategy and response to piracy, there wasn’t much that the network could do to control unauthorized use of its content. “We didn’t have the mechanism at the time to really know what was being done with our content,” he said. “The search engines and aggregators know who is taking copy-protected works. News organizations need to get to parity with those entities.”

The work of the Licensing Group will unfold in two initial phases. The first will be tagging participants’ text-based work, with video tags being available by the end of the year.

Although protecting members against copyright violations is the main mission of the Licensing Group, there’s also a commercial aspect to it. “Content companies want to see their work get widely distributed and our job is to see that its done fairly and legally,” Westin said. “The other part is to make sure that aggregators have a place to go where they can syndicate others’ work with clear approval. We’ll essentially be offering ourselves as a one-stop shop for licensed content.”