Newspapers, IPA, Sue IHSA For Free Press Rights

SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois Press Association says that it has filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association in an effort to overturn a rule that limits access to school sporting events and the use of photographs taken at those events.

According to the IPA and the lawsuit, the IHSA has contracted with Visual Image Photography Inc. for “exclusive and unlimited access to IHSA tournament locations and photo opportunities.” At the same time, as a condition of receiving a media pass, newspapers are required to sign an agreement limiting their own access and the “secondary use” of photographs not printed in the traditional newspaper.

“We have voiced our opposition to the IHSA,” said David L. Bennett, executive director of the IPA, “but they have declined to accommodate the press in a free and fair manner. We can no longer sit on the bench on this.”

The IPA said in a press release that they are seeking a temporary restraining order against the implementation of the IHSA rules as well as other relief.

The Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake and The State Journal-Register in Springfield joined the IPA in the lawsuit.

Sue Schmitt, publisher of The State Journal-Register, noted that her staff frequently uses photographs not published in the newspaper on the SJ-R’s Web site and makes photographs available to the public.

 “Newspapers inform readers in many ways, not just print on paper,” Schmitt said. “The State Journal-Register has been a pioneer in the use of online photography galleries and multimedia presentations, all to better serve our readers. Our readers want copies of these photographs and presentations because they want to hold onto the memory of their sons, their daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, friends or teammates in action. The idea that access could be denied to our photographers if we refuse to seek the sanction of a quasi-governmental body to use our own work is unacceptable.”

The IHSA rules limit Internet broadcast of games to “regularly scheduled” newscasts not to exceed 30 seconds per clip nor 2 minutes of total game time within any 1-hour period without the consent of the IHSA. Highlights cannot be used for any purpose two days following the event.

Photographs published in the traditional newspaper apparently are not subject to restriction. Photographers typically shoot dozens of photographs and use only one or two in the newspaper. All the unused photographs are subject to IHSA control, according to the terms of the media pass agreement for state tournaments.

According to the lawsuit, use of the photographs are considered “secondary use” which IHSA executive director Martin Hickman has said is any use other than in a traditional newspaper story.

Such requirements amount to prior restraint of the media’s free press rights, the lawsuit claims.

Allowing a private party to have unfettered access while limiting the press is another example of prior restraint and also violates the state’s “equal protection” clause of the Illinois Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

“It’s very clear what this is about,” Bennett said. “After a century of supporting and promoting local school sports, newspapers have helped develop a market that the IHSA now wants for itself. We believe what they’re doing is unlawful.”

“The commercial interest in school sports is small for individual newspapers,” Schmitt said. “Selling images is viewed more as a public service with the costs of covering the teams outweighing the income generated. But collectively, the commercial interest could be very large for the IHSA. This is about money for the IHSA.”

While membership in the IHSA is voluntary, public schools provide 85 percent of its membership. The IPA asserts in its lawsuit that “the overwhelming public character of IHSA membership is sufficient to confer state action for the application of constitutional protections of a free press and equal protection.”

The IPA is represented by Springfield attorney Don Craven. A hearing on the lawsuit is set for 1:30 p.m. on November 5 in Sangamon County Circuit Court with Judge Patrick Kelley.

In response, the IHSA today said on their Web site that they were "disappointed that the Illinois Press Association did not wish to continue dialog" that was started when IPA director Bennett, IHSA executive director Hickman, publisher Schmitt, and IPA attorney Craven met in Bloomington, IL, on August 9.

"At the conclusion of the meeting, all parties agreed that ... Bennett would communicate the concerns of the Illinois Press Association in writing to IHSA executive director Marty Hickman and that that the dialogue would continue in an effort to address the concerns of the Illinois Press Association." IHSA says they never received any concerns after that meeting, as agreed upon, until today's written notice of the pending lawsuit.

The Illinois Press Association is the largest state newspaper association in the United States with more than 600 daily and weekly newspaper members. It is located in Springfield.


Read an earlier related story