Illinois High School Association Sues IPA, Newspapers, Over Print Sales

SPRINGFIELD, IL - In the ongoing legal battle between a state high school athletic organization and newspapers and a press association who are fighting over the rights to sell photographs from high school championship games, another law suit has been filed in Illinois.

Back in November it was the Illinois Press Association who sued the Illinois High School Association over the issue of access to high school championship events and photo sales. The parties said they were trying to reach an out of court settlement on the issue of "secondary use" of images up until the end of November, when several Illinois newspapers were surprised to find that their photographers were shut out from the eight championship football games and the title games because IHSA said they were not "in compliance" on the issue of print sales.

Now this week the IHSA has filed a counter suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield asking a judge to declare that IHSA has the exclusive right to sell photographs taken at high school sporting events, and the right to impose limits on how newspapers use photographs, and for permission to restrict newspapers' access to IHSA games if editors and publishers fail to comply with IHSA polices.

The countersuit names IPA, the Journal Star in Peoria, The State Register-Journal in Springfield, and The Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, and asks for at lease $50,000 in damage payments. An IHSA statement issued after the suit was filed says the action was necessary "to bring a definitive resolution" to the dispute.

The suit also claims that the IHSA has not restricted any media from accessing of photographing IHSA events, despite the fact IHSA shut out the photographers from several Illinois newspapers to prevent them from shooting the state high school football championship games in Champaign in November.

IHSA executive director Mary Hickman said, "We are in no way interfering with any newspaper's ability to report the news. You don't need to sell a photo in order to report the news, nor does selling the photo enhance the news."

IPA's general legal counsel Don Craven told The Pantagraph that the IHSA's new lawsuit raises the same issues as the lawsuit IPA filed against the IHSA earlier this year. “We were asking that the court declare that the IHSA does not have the authority to enter into that contract with VIP,” Craven said. “The IHSA is saying that they do. ... It doesn’t appear that the IHSA is backing off,” Craven said. “I can tell you that from my conversations with the newspapers from around the state that they are not backing off either.”

IHSA has had a contract with Visual Image Photography Inc. of Cedarburg, WI, since 2001 that grants the commercial photography business "exclusive rights" to take an sell photographs from state athletic championship games. According to published reports, the contract gives IHSA access to VIP's extensive library of sports images for its own promotional use and VIP has the right to sell photographs of athletes and games to parents, boosters, and relatives. In the agreement, IHSA is expected to prevent credential media from selling their photographs from those same events.

IHSA said in a statement on their Web site that they're following examples set by the Big Ten Conference, the University of Illinois, Illinois State University and others, on the issue of print sales from athletic events.

"The IHSA has no objection to a broad range of traditional uses for newspaper photographs such as publishing them in newspapers and the more recent practice of posting them in newspapers’ online photo galleries. However, the IHSA policy is explicit in prohibiting their sale.

"Several Illinois newspapers are in violation of a long-standing IHSA policy that prohibits the sale of photographs taken at IHSA-sponsored events. The media is allowed entry into IHSA events under a Media Pass, conditioned on the agreement to abide by IHSA policies, including the agreement not to sell photographs taken at the events. The newspapers named in the counterclaim advertised photographs of IHSA events for sale on their Web sites and elsewhere. All had been asked to cease the practice of advertising and selling IHSA State Championship photos, but refused to do so."

IHSA says they were "compelled" to file their own suit after IPA and the newspapers showed "no interest in continuing to discuss this issue, and the newspapers have continued their practice of selling photos...".

IPA executive director Dave Bennett doesn't agree with IHSA's claim that they have a right to contract with a private company such as VIP and to control access to state high school athletic events an dictate who can sell photographs.

In a statement on the IPA Web site Bennett asks for consideration of these points in explaining IPA's position on the matter:

•The IHSA is a state actor. Unlike NASCAR, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, etc., most of the IHSA’s membership is made up of public high schools using tax dollars. Therefore, the IHSA cannot grant exclusive access to public sporting events for newsgathering purposes.

•The amount of money generated by photos is very small for newspapers but potentially very large for a single, commercial photographer. Limiting the sale of news photos increases demand and profitability for the commercial photographer. While the IHSA has claimed that newspapers are trying to profit from school children, it is the IHSA that seeks to increase the profitability of sports photo for its own benefit.

• Newspapers have been the single biggest promoters of school sports for the past century. As such, they have developed a market for sports photos that the IHSA now wishes to claim for itself.

• Newspapers have never sold photos because of any perceived profitability. The costs of sports coverage far outweighs any offsetting income derived from the sale of photos.

•The IPA made a good-faith effort to negotiate with the IHSA. We withdrew our court motion and promised to consider their proposal at our December meeting. It was more important to them to try to dominate the issue than it was to work amicably.

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