The Internet has made it uncertain how news will be paid for in the future. Pundits and publishers have proposed a variety of different models including stronger copyright and outright government protection. These proposals, however successful, ignore the way in which property rights were historically constructed in the news industry. Relying on primary documents from the newly-opened archives of the Associated Press, in this paper I explore how a particular form of business organisation was created to protect property rights in news. This informal mechanism was more effective than a formal property-rights regime. The history of the AP offers lessons for the future of news provision, as well as for the effective creation of property rights in other industries.