Wis. association claims ownership of high school sports coverage

WISCONSIN — Spurred by a local newspaper’s unauthorizedWeb streaming of a high school football game, the organization that overseeshigh school athletics in Wisconsin is suing for the right to control all mediaproduced at sports events for commercial use.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is seeking a legaldeclaration that it has ownership rights over “any transmission, internetstream, photo, image, film, videotape, audiotape, writing, drawing or otherdepiction” of athletic events it organizes. The WIAA is also seeking adeclaration that it has the right to grant exclusive contracts for thiscoverage.

The broad language of the claim — Wisconsin Newspaper AssociationExecutive Director Peter Fox said he’s calling it an”incomprehensible overreach” — inspired a barrage of newspapereditorials across the state claiming the WIAA’s stance would stifle newscoverage of high school sports.

“Essentially what the WIAA is suggesting is that beyond the words andthe photos that newspapers put on newsprint and deliver to people’s frontporches, newspapers can’t report on high school sports,” Foxsaid.

Russ Golla, an attorney in the firm representing the athletic association,said the lawsuit is necessary to stay in compliance with contracts designed toincrease media coverage. A few years ago, the WIAA sought out media outlets thatwould agree to broadcast a wide range of high school sports events — including sports traditionally less highly publicized, such as track and fieldor swimming — in exchange for exclusive rights, Golla said.

The lawsuit stems from a Nov. 8, 2008, football game between Stevens PointSenior High School and Appleton North High School in Stevens Point, Wisc., whichwas live-streamed on the Web site of the Appleton Post-Crescent. Gollasaid that if the WIAA allowed the newspaper to live-stream tournament games, “we would be in violation of the contracts that we have with people whostepped up to the plate and said they would do this.”

Under the WIAA’s media policy, news organizations are not allowed tobroadcast live or show delayed coverage of an entire athletic contest. Forexample, videotaping the whole game is fine as long as the news organizationonly shows clips, Golla said. News organizations can pay fees for the right tobroadcast.

Dan Flannery, executive editor of the Post-Crescent, said thenewspaper does not believe the WIAA should be able to dictate itscoverage.

“We believe we should be able to cover news in whatever form,whatever technology is available to us,” he said.

Flannery said the timing of the lawsuit was surprising because they metwith WIAA officials and their legal counsel on Dec. 18 to see if the two groupscould reach a compromise, and the newspaper was not told the lawsuit had alreadybeen filed Dec. 5. The claim itself is alarming, he said, because it does notspecifically list newer technologies, but even includes”writing.”

Golla said the “writing” part is aimed at live-blogging orother written play-by-play updates. He said the association would have to checkits contracts to see whether the WIAA could allow limited blogging like theNational Collegiate Athletic Association permits at college sports events.

Fox said he was not certain how the WIAA’s policies might affect highschool student newspapers since few have that level of online capability yet,but it could be a possibility.”I would fear that if a studentnewspaper had similar electronic capabilities, it would find itself beingprohibited from covering its own sports team,” he said.