The abbreviation IHSA is probably familiar to you if you have school age children or are a high school sports fan. The Illinois High School Association is the body that sanctions and oversees sports in our schools. Recently much has been made of a lawsuit (and now counter-lawsuit) involving the IHSA, the Illinois Press Association (IPA) and several newspapers in the state.
In the interest of full disclosure, The Telegraph is a member of the IPA, but is not one of the newspapers specifically named in the lawsuit.
I’m not a lawyer, but the gist of the lawsuit is that the IHSA wants to limit the way newspapers cover high school championship games, specifically limiting newspaper photographers from taking pictures of high school athletes during the championship games.
The bone of contention for the IHSA is that some newspapers sell reprints of staff photos to the families, etc. of high school athletes. The IHSA has an agreement with Visual Impact Photography, Inc., that grants them exclusive rights to the championship photos, with all re-publication and sales rights. So, let the lawsuits fly.
The IHSA claims it receives no financial incentives from Visual Impact, only video and photo considerations. OK, so far. If the IHSA wants to contract with a photo company for their special photos, so be it. My question, and that of the IPA, is what gives IHSA the right to say who else can photograph a high school championship game?
Professional sports, such as the NFL, MLB, etc. are commercial enterprises and own and control the photo rights to their games. If a Telegraph photographer applies for and obtains press credentials for a Rams game, we are prohibited from using the pictures for anything other than our news coverage – i.e. the newspaper or our Telegraph website. We can’t sell reprints of the Tory Holt touchdown picture, or make up T-shirts of the “Rams win the Super Bowl” page “without the express written permission of the NFL.” You hear that legal disclaimer during every game, either in the stands or on the TV or radio.
Basically, the IHSA wants the same right to control who receives photo credentials and what is done with the photos. Here’s the rub: the IHSA only exists because of public schools that we pay local and state taxes to support. If public high schools (and their sports programs) didn’t exist, neither would the IHSA. And, unlike professional players, high school athletes are amateurs and are not compensated for their performance on the field. So, if Grandma Jones wants a picture of her little “Bubba” during the game, IHSA wants her to contact Visual Impact and pay whatever they choose to charge.
What’s next? Will the IHSA decide to restrict credentials for print reporters as well? “Sorry, Telegraph, you can’t have admission to the game. If you publish a story, the IHSA will sue. If you want a story about the Alton-Chatham game, pay the IHSA contracted scribe for our approved version. And, by the way, if you want a picture for your Sports page that will be an additional charge.” Will the story be written the same for The Telegraph and the Chatham paper? Will an out-of-town photographer know whom to shoot and when?
And what about mom and dad with a digital camera? If they take a picture of Bubba at the big game and put it on a T-shirt for everyone in the family, will they be served with a lawsuit from IHSA for not using their contracted photography service?
We can argue about 1st Amendment Rights, and that is a valid discussion here. But mostly we’re concerned about an organization that exists because we support its members, dictating what our readers can expect from their local papers.
Stay tuned. The lawyers are in charge now,