Illinois schools association can charge newspapers who broadcast sports events

ILLINOIS — The Illinois High School Association can charge newspapers that want to produce webcasts of high school sports events, despite a 2008 settlement agreement with the Illinois Press Association, according to a circuit court judge’s ruling.

The 2008 agreement grants IHSA “no authority to control or regulate the production, distribution or sale of any newspaper product.” But that’s exactly what the IHSA did when it blocked The Northwest Herald from producing a video webcast of a football playoff game earlier this month.

The Herald, The State-Journal Register and the state’s press association, filed a complaint with the court claiming IHSA was noncompliant with the agreement, which was originally reached after IHSA tried to block news organizations from selling photographs taken at high school sporting events.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge Patrick Kelley ruled in favor of IHSA, stating that the original agreement did not include access for online newspaper products.

IHSA has charged for broadcasting rights for the past 20 years, Executive Director Marty Hickman said.

“We don’t want to block media outlets, and we have a policy that generally permits media outlets to do that provided they pay a fee,” he said.

Hickman said IHSA’s policies don’t affect high school publications. He said individual agreements have been worked out between member districts to allow schools to broadcast high school games online.

Illinois Press Association attorney Don Craven said he was disappointed with the ruling. He noted that “the agreement protects all newspaper products,” adding that newspapers were webcasting football games at the time of the 2008 settlement.

In a 2011 Wisconsin case, a federal appeals court found that the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association had the right to sell broadcasting rights for high school sporting events, after newspapers owned by Gannett claimed there was no difference between print coverage and live webcasting.

“Simply put, streaming or broadcasting an event is not the same thing as reporting on or describing it,” according to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ ruling in the Wisconsin case.

Craven said that the press association has no plans to appeal the decision at this time.

By Samantha Raphelson, SPLC Staff Writer. Contact Raphelson by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.