Wisconsin High School Athletics, Newspapers, Fight Over Photo Rights

RACINE, WI – Wisconsin newspaper photographers are only weeks away from covering their high school state basketball championships, and wrestling and swimming championships have already started, while in the background a fight is going on between the state’s newspaper editors and publishers and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA).

The dispute is over who controls the photographic and video rights from the title games, along with the regional and sectional matches, meets and games which lead up to the championships, and whether the newspapers have the right to resell the game’s pictures and video to the public.

Wisconsin’s publishers and editors say they have the right to post images online for sale to the public, and to resell pictures that have been printed in the paper, as they have been doing in recent years. But the WIAA says that – tradition notwithstanding – under a new agreement with two private corporations the state’s newspapers can cover the games all they want for “editorial” use, but not for “commercial” (resale) use. WIAA also claims that photographs used only online, along with Web video, cannot be sold by the newspapers at all.

A few years ago WIAA, which governs public and private high school sports in Wisconsin, sold exclusive still photo and video rights for the schools' championships to Visual Image Photography Inc. of Cedarburg, WI, as well as to a firm in Madison called When We Were Young Productions. The agreement gives the two private companies the right to resell pictures and videos from Wisconsin’s schools’ championship tournaments, and has WIAA telling newspaper editors that they can no longer offer their staff photographers’ championship game images or reprints for resale.

Apparently no one took note of the rights agreements until now, and there was no attempt by WIAA to enforce the terms until recently, which brought a media spotlight to bear on the issue.

Wisconsin newspapers must sign press credential agreements with WIAA in order to gain access to cover championship events, and WIAA’s new terms about image rights are part of some of the credential agreements for some of the sports. The circumstances have Wisconsin editors and publishers seeking modifications to certain clauses in the agreements, the parts pertaining to who owns the rights to images as well as some of the terms the resale of pictures and video.

In the meantime, WIAA has ordered some Wisconsin newspapers to stop selling their pictures and videos. “Enforcement of the terms of the new agreement has been sporadic,” said Mark Hertzberg, director of photography for The Racine Journal Times. “There were two newspapers ordered to stop selling video coverage. With us, it was regional and sectional football tournament play; for Appleton, it was a state football championship. A third paper, the Wausau Daily Herald, was told to not sell photos in their online gallery of state track ... which the vendor had not even covered!”

The president and CEO of Visual Image Photography, Tom Hayes, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “If anybody is at a game and can post pictures and sell them, that would hurt our sales and therefore hurt our revenue source.”

In the same news story the Journal Sentinel’s managing editor, George Stanley, said, “If we take a photo of a local basketball player shooting the shot that wins the state tournament, and his or her parents ask us for a print of the photo, we’re going to sell them the print like we always have, and I’m sure every daily and weekly newspaper in the state feels the same way.”

Hertzberg said that five state photography directors and editors have joined in with the National Press Photographers Association, the Wisconsin News Photographers Association, the Associated Press Photo Managers, and the Wisconsin AP Sports Editors organization in signing a letter of protest concerning the new restrictions.

A few weeks ago WIAA and the two private photo companies offered newspaper editors a compromise, saying that for $100 the newspapers could shoot unlimited images at regional and sectional events, but that once the competitions reached state tournament level the newspapers’ pictures could only be used for “editorial” purposes. Along with the compromise offer they’re also now saying that they don’t object to the resale of pictures that have been published in the print version of the newspaper, but still maintain that photos used solely online (in Web galleries or with Web stories) and Web video cannot be sold at all.

“What it comes down to is that they do not recognize the Web as a legitimate form of newspaper publication and will not allow sales of stills in online galleries and videos,” Hertzberg said. The others signing the letter were Jonathan Utz, photography editor of the Wisconsin State Journal; Dwight Nale of the Appleton Post-Crescent; Bill Olmsted of the Janesville Gazette; and Sherman Williams of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“The state AP editors met Friday and agreed that no one will pay the licensing fee. They formed a committee that will try to meet with WIAA to discuss the dispute,” Hertzberg said.