IHSA Shuts Out Photographers At State Football Championships

CHAMPAIGN, IL - News photographers from five Illinois newspapers were surprised to discover they were banned by the Illinois High School Association from covering the state's two-day, eight-game high school football championship games this weekend.

Staff photographers from the Pantagraph and four other newspapers were told by IHSA officials that their newspapers had violated the association's policy regarding secondary sales of images from state tournament events, and therefore they were banned from having access to the field.

Earlier this month the Illinois Press Association sued the IHSA over the terms of their credential agreements and over the secondary use of images, including sales of prints by the newspapers, and IPA withdrew the suit on November 16 when there was an apparent agreement reached to allow access to state championship events. Last week, after IPA and IHSA had reached their "out of court" settlement, newspapers photographed the state's swimming championships without any reported incident.

After pulling the photo credentials of five Illinois newspapers for the games, IHSA assistant executive director Anthony Holman told the Pantagraph that the media outlets had been notified that they were not in compliance with IHSA's policy, and gave them time to reply, but that they did not hear back from the newspapers.

"Our policy has not changed," the Pantagraph quoted Holman as saying. "What has changed is the more aggressive selling of photos by media organizations online ... we don't have a problem with you giving them away or doing photo galleries online."

In a statement on IHSA's Web site, IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said, "While the Illinois Press Association has indicated its willingness to compromise on this matter, its actions have spoken much louder than its words. We asked the IPA to have its members refrain from selling photos of our events while we continued to work to resolve this issue. We presented the IPA with a proposal nearly two weeks ago and they have yet to respond."

The IHSA says that in a letter sent to the IPA from Hickman, the newspapers were told that they could "give photos to anyone in their communities, provided the photos were used for personal rather than commercial use." The IHSA says they also indicated that photo galleries on newspaper Web sites could contain an unlimited number of photos from IHSA events.  “If the newspapers are interested in providing a community service, the opportunity clearly exists," Hickman said. "It has become abundantly clear, however, that some members of the Illinois Press Association are more interested in the commercial photography business.”

IHSA also said that their policy regarding the "sale of photos taken at its events is virtually identical to the policy in place at Illinois State University, the University of Illinois and the Big Ten. To date, it does not appear that the Illinois Press Association has filed a lawsuit against any other entity with a policy similar to that of the Illinois High School Association."

The newspapers that were banned from the field were The Daily Herald, the Northwest Herald, the State Journal-Register, the Peoria Journal Star, and the Pantagraph.

One of the newspapers, The Daily Herald, reported the IHSA photo ban in a story to their readers - but then they took the unusual step of inviting "readers, parents, and fans to send us their photos [of the game]" and gave an eMail address where the pictures could be sent, "in order to show of the best of our students' athletic talents."

The Daily Herald, who said they received no notice from the IHSA that they would be banned from the championships, told readers, "While the final resolution of this matter may ultimately come from the courts, the Daily Herald has an obligation to report the state championships as completely as we can. So we will include photos from state tournament events in our print edition by whatever ethical means available. That means you'll likely see images provided to us by the Associated Press, and quite possibly from fans of Driscoll, Lake Zurich, Glenbard North and Naperville North. Readers, feel free to send us your best shots ..."

Some professional photojournalists voicing their opinion online, on discussion boards or lists, believe that a boycott of covering sporting events might have some impact on state associations who seek to control the conditions that newspapers agree to in order to receive credentials, including secondary use of images and print sales. But others have expressed the opinion that as long as newspapers use game photographs provided by the Associated Press or other wire services, or pictures submitted by fans or students or others who attended the games, there will be no pressure or leverage on state athletic associations whose primary interest is still to see their sporting events covered in the media, whether or not the source of the visuals are from professional journalists or student or citizen photographers.

In the lawsuit earlier this month, IPA sued the IHSA in an effort to overturn a rule that limits access to school sporting events and the use of photographs taken at those events. The complaint alleged that IHSA had contracted with Visual Image Photography Inc. (VIP) for “exclusive and unlimited access to IHSA tournament locations and photo opportunities.” At the same time, as a condition of receiving a media pass, Illinois newspapers were required to sign an agreement limiting their own access and prohibiting the “secondary use” of photographs that were printed in the traditional newspaper, but were possibly used online or in galleries where prints are for sale.

The IPA is a statewide association of 600 daily and weekly newspapers, published throughout the State of Illinois. Among its stated purposes is the protection of the news gathering and business interests of those Illinois newspapers.

IPA's lawsuit had three basic causes of action: First, that by accepting the IHSA's credential terms IPA members are prohibited from publishing photos anywhere except in the newspaper (no Web, no print sales), and that's "prior restraint" and unconstitutional; Secondly, that by giving VIP photographers (the third-party firm hired to shoot for IHSA) preferential treatment IHSA is violating the state's constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law; Additionally, IPA asked the court for a temporary restraining order against IHSA to keep them from implementing their credential rules, which would have kept IPA members from covering state high school games if they did not agree ahead of time to comply with the terms.