Wis. court rules state entities can sell exclusive video streaming rights

WISCONSIN — A U.S. District Court in Wisconsin has ruled thatstate entities can sell exclusive rights to cover, through streaming videoonline, a government-sponsored event, including high school athletics.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) andAmerican-Hifi, Inc. sued Gannett Co., Inc. and the Wisconsin NewspaperAssociation, Inc. after newspapers sought access to stream high school sportingevents. The news organizations raised questions about the fee and licensingstructure that the WIAA has in place. The WIAA runs state tournaments for 26sports and has a contract granting exclusive webstreaming rights toAmerican-Hifi.

On June 3, the court stated that the exclusive license did not violate thefree press clause of the First Amendment or the equal protection clause of theFourteenth Amendment.

“This decision is really about a narrow issue, which is live webcasting ofentire games, and there’s a weaker First Amendment argument in favor of a rightto show games start to finish on the web,” said Frank LoMonte, executivedirector of the Student Press Law Center. “When you’re telecasting the entiregame, start to finish, it’s less like a journalistic exercise and more like anentertainment production.”

Robert Dreps, an attorney at Godfrey and Kahn in Madison, Wis., representedthe media defendants. He said he is unsure whether any student journalists havesought and been denied any opportunity to stream a tournament game over theInternet.

The court did not rule on whether the other WIAA restrictions that moredirectly impacted news coverage, such as limits on the duration of video duringnewscasts and on the resale of game photos, violated the First Amendment. Drepssaid those issues were largely mooted by later WIAA policy changes.

Todd Clark, director of communications for WIAA, said that the rules do notprevent media access for commercial or student newspapers.

“It doesn’t prohibit any access whatsoever,” Clark said. “The newspapersaren’t claiming ‘access,’ they’re claiming the right to do anything they want todo in this case, meaning they could live commercially stream a broadcasttransmission from start to finish, which isn’t access nor is it reporting, andthat’s what the judge agreed with.”

Clark said that student journalists seeking to cover the games can use upto two minutes of video as a reporting source and can stream video through theWIAA website if they are from a WIAA affiliated school.

“Student videographers would be under the same rules with that credential,they are limited just like any other media source without permission from theassociation and the rights-holding entities for our tournament series,” Clarksaid.

In 2008, the Appleton Post-Crescent streamed four football contestsand received a complaint from American-Hifi, the company WIAA sold exclusiverights to under a 10-year contract beginning in 2005. The company demanded $250and the surrender of the DVD recording from the newspaper, Dreps said.

Drepssaid that it has not yet been decided whether the papers will appeal thedecision.