If A Sporting Event Is Newsworthy, Why Can't News Organizations Broadcast It?

from the ownership-society dept

In the past, sports leagues have tried to claim that transmitting information about their events violated their copyrights, but every time they've tried to enforce that, they've lost (often badly) in court. Despite the exaggerated claims you often hear towards the ends of sporting broadcasts about how "Any use of this broadcast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the league's consent, is prohibited," just because they say it, doesn't make it so -- especially when it comes to "descriptions" of the game.

Of course, this has always made me wonder about the "exclusive contracts" that various sports teams and leagues sign with certain broadcast companies for TV, radio and internet streams. Because, in this day and age, the lines between things start to get blurry really fast. If I'm at a game and using my mobile phone to tell a friend what's happening, am I broadcasting? What if I'm using three way calling so it's more than just one person listening? What if it's 10 people? Now, what if I'm filming the game with my cell phone? These days, there are tons of new services like Qik that allow you to broadcast video directly from your mobile phone. You know there's a lawsuit waiting to happen...

And while it isn't quite as extreme yet, there is a lawsuit happening now that may play into this. Romenesko points us to the news that the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has sued newspaper giant Gannett for daring to cover its sporting events by including online video of the event. It claims that showing the event infringes "on its exclusive media ownership rights." Specifically, the group is claiming that high school sporting events are not news, and therefore it has the right to "control the transmission, Internet stream, photo, image, film, videotape, audiotape, writing, drawing or other depiction or description" of games.

Already, we know that it's simply not true that they have the right to control "description" of the game, but do they really have the right to any video tape of the event as well? It seems like quite a stretch to claim that a sporting event is not news. Now, if the event is on private property, they could simply ban the ability to film/record the event and throw violators off the property, but that's separate from the "media ownership rights."

The article above, written by the local Gannett-owned newspaper who filed the suit, is a bit misleading, in that most of the article claims it was sued simply for reporting on the game, which is absolutely ridiculous. The reporter doesn't even mention the video streaming until the 10th paragraph. Still, once you realize that a video you film yourself really is just another "depiction" of a news event... you do have to wonder if the sports organizations really can claim ownership over it. Perhaps this lawsuit will let us find out.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Weird Harold, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 8:33am

    Descriptions may by referring to the play by play or running commentary of the game in question. Also, from a purely legal standpoint, the only true public events are those which happen in public places. A privately owned arena, example, is not a true public location and therefore what happens inside is not a true public event.

    Gannett could cover the high school games by sending a reporter, getting credentials, and producing their own news. They likely would not get accreditation for video.

    Mike, what would you think if I came to the "FREE!" seminar thing and video taped all of the seminar, and then sold those videos online? Would I need a license or permission, or are you saying that because it is digital that I should be free to distribute it?

    Think hard before you answer.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    bob, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 8:37am

    less "news" more "performance"

    I look at a sporting even as a ticketed private performance. It's ok to describe what's going on, just like you can describe what's going on at a concert. However, you can't rebroadcast the vital portion of the show people are paying to see, the actual performance. You could describe a concert to someone. It's even ok if you are obsessed enough to have stats on what a band is doing. But they get mad when you rebroadcast or even post lyrics sometimes. This is why I think it's ok to freely use sports stats, but I think rebroadcast of the performance(game) goes too far.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Thomo, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 8:40am

    created reality - news? not.

    Sporting events are staged -> news occurs.
    If an event is created, then only what is done to create it and what results are news. The event is a staged performance, controlled by those who staged it.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Scote, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 8:48am

    "Mike, what would you think if I came to the "FREE!" seminar thing and video taped all of the seminar, and then sold those videos online? Would I need a license or permission, or are you saying that because it is digital that I should be free to distribute it?"

    A sporting event is spontaneous and unscripted (well, it is supposed to be) so it is not copyrightable. A seminar can consist entirely of copyrighted speech.

     

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  5.  
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    some old guy, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 8:53am

    Re: less "news" more "performance"

    See, you've fallen into this terrible trap that sports is somehow a form of professional entertainment.

    That's a terribly destructive mindset.

     

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  6.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Mar 6th, 2009 @ 8:59am

    Re:

    Descriptions may by referring to the play by play or running commentary of the game in question. Also, from a purely legal standpoint, the only true public events are those which happen in public places.

    Which I said. I made it clear that in private arenas the company has the right to control what it allows you to do... but that's a trespassing issue, not a copyright one.

    Mike, what would you think if I came to the "FREE!" seminar thing and video taped all of the seminar, and then sold those videos online? Would I need a license or permission, or are you saying that because it is digital that I should be free to distribute it?

    Considering that tickets are free and we're broadcasting it free online... um... if you want to help us spread it further... who's going to complain about that?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    ehrichweiss, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    You need to learn a new phrase "privately owned for public use".

    Many things fall under this category. Malls, roads built by apartment complexes, arenas, etc.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Weird Harold, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    Mike, you are doing what you seem to do often when looking at these things: You are forgetting that this isn't a one dimensional issue. In this situation, you are confusing the right to report with the right to provide video of the event.

    Read the story: "The lawsuit was set in motion after The P-C presented a live webcast Nov. 8 on the newspaper's Web site, postcrescent.com, of a playoff football game between Appleton North and Stevens Point in Stevens Point, home of the WIAA." - They were not filing a news report, they were broadcasting the event live. That is nowhere near the same thing. If they had put together a 30 second news report highlight reel and run it after the event was over, I am sure they wouldn't be facing a lawsuit.

    I know you like to get all outraged and indignant over the issues, but at least try to pick something that makes sense.

     

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  9.  
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    hegemon13, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Re:

    This one is a gray area because of whether or not it qualifies as "news." Certainly, your example does not, unless something really crazy happened at the seminar that made it newsworthy. Your distinction between public and private property is wrong, however. If a murder takes place inside a private club, it is still news. Sports stadiums are privately owned, but newspapers report on professional- and college-level sports all the time.

    The question here is not whether the event was public or private, but whether it qualifies as news, and whether the reporting method was appropriate.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Dr. Mook, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Re:

    Think hard before you answer.

    Euthanasia is the best answer.

     

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  11.  
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    Ron (profile), Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:26am

    Drop It

    Well, the newspaper could take the view that if the sport association does not consider the events as news, then the paper will not cover it, and will charge the sport association for any ads placed in the paper to promote the event (the association may thus far have received free advertising of upcoming games as part of a community page). I think this would simply be treating the group as any other commercial venture.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:31am

    Well, then let's look at it another way. Two HIGH SCHOOL football teams are having a game. First off, I live in the area, just down the road from Steven's Point. Both of these are public school teams, playing in a public school event, and while I can't say for sure, probably at a public school facility. The fact that the WIAA sanctions the event changes nothing about that. If the teams, the facility, and everything else is financed by tax dollars, it should be pubic domain. There should be no private organization such as the WIAA claiming rights to the performance of two public school teams in public owned facilities.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 9:55am

    This

    "There should be no private organization such as the WIAA claiming rights to the performance of two public school teams in public owned facilities."

    What this guy said

    This was a public performance on public grounds by a public school. How can someone claim ownership? Heck, it was an open field. I could've sat in the street and recored from my parked car.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Buzz, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 10:16am

    Hmmm

    My problem with this whole attitude is this: is the event really so boring that video coverage and/or a live blog update enough to really capture the spirit of the event? If so, it is not worth protecting in the first place. You're lucky to have more interested viewers out there.

    However, most fans of such events go for the bleachers, the cold air, the fun of cheering with friends/family, etc. There is lots of value in actually attending the event. Blocking out external broadcasts will not magically drive attendance up (if that is what the organizers are hoping for).

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Rick, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 10:31am

    Re:

    "There should be no private organization such as the WIAA claiming rights to the performance of two public school teams in public owned facilities."

    EXACTLY. These are OUR kids playing - whether you consider it aperformance or not. WE built those schools and WE pay the taxes to make those games happen.

    NOBODY owns our kids or our schools. They are public schools and public games, and anyone - including any newspaper or TV network/station who also pays taxes can report on it.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Hulser, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 11:05am

    Re:

    I was thinking along the exact same lines. The issue of whether you think a sporting event is newsworthy and whether this allows for broadcast of the video of the event is completely irrelevent to this situation.

    In my mind, you couldn't make this more of a public event if you tried. In other words, the school disctrict can't sign away the rights of a public event to a private organization. You can't sell something you don't own.

     

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  17.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Mar 6th, 2009 @ 11:41am

    Re:

    In this situation, you are confusing the right to report with the right to provide video of the event.

    Actually, I quite clearly explained that. In fact, I explained it more clearly than the original news report.

    Harold, you have a long history of getting your facts wrong. Why do you keep doing this?

    They were not filing a news report, they were broadcasting the event live.

    Uh, yes. Read the post. I said exactly that.

    Thanks for reading.

     

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  18.  
    icon
    Big Mook (profile), Mar 6th, 2009 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re:

    As the only and original Big Mook, I take offense at the improper use of the name Mook in violation of my personal wishes. Please consider this message as your cease and desist notification.

    Hail Xenu!

    Big Mook

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    mobiGeek, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re:

    I am sorry, but I do not understand this qualification of "news".

    A reporter decides to cover something, anything, is that not news? Why does something "crazy" have to occur? Is it only news if a fight breaks out during a council meeting; if all is orderly then there is no news?

    The question is NOT one of whether something is news or not. That is ENTIRELY subjective.

    The only question here is whether trespassing occurred or not. Since the reporter was allowed into the stadium and not asked to refrain from recording, it likely is not trespassing.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Dr. Mook, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    BM,
    I am your more level headed, highly educated secondary persona.

     

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  21.  
    icon
    Jimmy the Geek (profile), Mar 6th, 2009 @ 2:59pm

    Public money

    Especially considering how much professional sports is subsidized by tax breaks and public money being used to build the stadiums.

    I mean really, since out money is paying their salaries and they are running around out on a field paid for with tax money, why isn't any tax payer free to film and use the event for any purpose they choose?

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Tamara, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 5:15pm

    There was a case in Australia last year where a school sued a media company for showing footage from one of their basketball games played at another school on the Net. They used the "It's to protect the children from being seen by undesirable people." They said that, but the school didn't have a problem showing video of their students at swimming carnivals(so in swimsuits, so wearing a lot less than a basketball outfit) on their on site visible to all, and having photos of their students appear in the local newspaper. They lost the case. Very odd that they felt undesirables would never visit a school site to view children, or even walk around shopping centres/beach/etc. outside school hours but would view a media companies site. Or unless that "Protect the children" crap was just an excuse because they couldn't think of anything else - as since it was played at another school the other school had the right to determine who was allowed on the school grounds - the school that sued doesn't allow any photographers on their school grounds - journalists only, the school has their own photographer who sells the photos to the media organisations that want them.

     

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