Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sports photo battle

Interesting battle brewing in Illinois, the outcome of which may affect the way newspapers cover high school sports.
This year, the Illinois High School Association, the state-wide governing body for high school sports (similar to the PIAA in Pennsylvania) took on newspapers who have been covering playoff games and selling reprints of photos taken at these games. It seems that the IHSA has an exclusive contract with a professional photographic company to cover the playoff games, and sell reprints to the public. This is nothing new; the PIAA has a similar arrangement.
Newspapers covering these events have often sold reprints of their photos, along with those from the rest of the newspaper. This is also nothing new. Until now, media outlets generally had unhindered access to such events.
So what's new? The internet. Newspapers, photographers and even some parents now sell dozens or hundreds of photos on the internet from high school events. The event photographers, fearing for their business and citing their exclusive contracts, are starting to take on what they now see as competition. Media outlets claim that the First Ammenement allows them to cover events as they see fit, without private interests limiting how they do so or how many photos can be posted.
The battle has now escalated; the IHSA blocked several photographers from a recent football game for not agreeing to their terms. The Illinois Press Association filed a lawsuit, which is still in negotiation.
There are many interesting angles to this issue- one the one hand, you can't blame the event photographers for defending their substantial investment in covering these tournaments, which are often spread over several days in many locations. Their primary interest is not in preventing media coverage, but rather preventing reprint sales that cut into their business.
On the other hand, the way media outlets cover news and sports has changed dramatically over the past few years. No longer are they limited to a couple of photos in the next day's edition after a playoff game; now they can post online photo galleries, videos, statistics and extra stories. The First Ammendment does not specify in what medium the press can present coverage; is an online video or multi-photo gallery not as much coverage as a story in the paper product? How many photos does it take to cross the line into event photography? Five? Twenty? One-hundred? Who gets to decide?
And the other factor is the parents and taxpayers who have funded the schools, the buildings and fields they practice on, and paid the salaries of the coaches. Unlike professional sports, which are generally private entities (although one can argue they often play in publicly-funded stadiums), public schools have some accountability to the public, through a school board or similar governing body.
If you are a parent, how would you feel if you were told you could not videotape an event your child was participating in? Ask the band parents. Some large regional marching band competitions already have such restrictions in place. Videos of these events are available from a professional videographer, for a charge.
This issue is likely to escalate as profit margins for all sides get thinner.


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