Newspaper and book publishers have announced a new tagging system which they hope will wrestle back control over content distribution from news aggregators and search engines.

The Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP) technology, launched by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and various other groups, aims to calm publishers’ fears that they are getting a bad deal when their content is indexed online.

They say that the system, set for launch later this year, will tell search engine’s crawlers how their material can be used, so that the likes of Google and Yahoo! can no longer claim ignorance of their copyright rules.

This system is intended to remove completely any rights conflicts between publishers and search engines,” said Gavin O’Reilly, president of WAN and also the COO of Independent News & Media.

This industry-wide initiative positively answers the growing frustration of publishers, who continue to invest heavily in generating content for online dissemination and use.

The move follows a recent Belgian court ruling that Google had infringed on newspapers’ copyright by publishing sections of their articles.

It is essentially an attempt by publishers to renegotiate the terms of their relationship with search engines, even though the current situation generates a huge amount of traffic for their sites.

According to Reuters, the system could see search engines paying royalties to publishers for use of their articles.

Whether the system will work is also an issue – and one written about by Danny Sullivan in an interesting blog on the legalities and difficulties of controlling content distribution online.