NCAA Decides Portfolio Shots On SportsShooter.com Are Editorial, Not Commercial, Use By Photographers

Nov 29, 2005

By Sedda Kreabs

LOS ANGELES - The NCAA has determined that use of student athlete images within portfolios posted on theWeb site SportsShooter.com constitutes an editorial use, and therefore does not threaten a player’s NCAA amateur eligibility status.

The athletic communications director at Syracuse University had raised the question in recent weeks after a student photojournalist and other professionals had posted portfolio photographs from recent Syracuse football games within their paid Web space on SportsShooter.com. Photojournalists who subscribe to the site post their photography to obtain peer critiques and recommendations for freelance jobs.

“It’s pretty hard to view SportsShooter.com in any other way but in an editorial light,” said Kirk Irwin, a Syracuse graduate student who had been asked to remove his portfolio shots of Syracuse football action from the site. “To hear that the NCAA also sees it as editorial usage wasn’t surprising - but I’m glad that it’s finally resolved.”

Susan Edson, director of athletic communications at Syracuse University, had threatened to revoke a photography credential issued to the school’s newspaper and to a local newspaper if staff photographers didn't remove images posted to a member portfolio area on SportsShooter.com. She cited concerns that the images were being used commercially on the Web site, and a fear that their use could affect the privacy and NCAA standing of the Syracuse athletes who were pictured.

“We’re all happy that we were able to come to a conclusion that worked for everybody,” Edson told News Photographer magazine today, after the NCAA’s decision was announced.

Edson’s initial concerns were based in NCAA rule 15.5.2.2 stating that to retain a student athlete’s eligibility, the player or his or her institution must take steps to stop the publication of the athlete’s name or picture “on commercial items (e.g. shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete's knowledge or permission.) … Such steps are not required in cases in which a student-athlete's photograph is sold by an individual or agency (e.g., private photographer, news agency) for private use.”

At a meeting before the Thanksgiving holiday, Edson met with photographer Irwin, professors from the university, other athletic communications staff, and NPPA chapter representative Angela Baldridge to discuss the matter. The group agreed to credit images made of Syracuse athletes with a readable watermark embedded into the original image, pending the NCAA decision on whether image use on the site was seen as commercial or editorial. The embedded credit would include the photographer’s name and the credentialing publication’s name.

Mandatory crediting of images as a term of use is a longstanding practice frequently used within the industry, however, requiring mandatory credit text to appear within the image is a new development in the rights and copyright arena.

“We asked that the students do that — both The Daily Orange and the Newhouse students — and the photography professors seemed to think it’s a good idea,” Edson said about the watermark credit. “It also protects the student photographers’ rights and copyrights to the photograph. It also gives us help in the issue of the freelance photography and the space on the sidelines.”

The Syracuse athletic communications department issues credentials for events in the Carrier Dome only to media outlets due to space limitations on the sidelines. Freelancers requesting credentials for shooting “on spec” or only to enhance their portfolios are frequently turned down.

A freelancer who had been denied a credential had initially brought the question of Carrier Dome access to the athletic department in this case, after seeing Syracuse images shot on a staff media outlet credential in SportsShooter.com portfolios on the site, and believing them to be freelance work.

“One of the problems was that the athletic department was getting (credential) requests from local freelancers, and (crediting the publication in online images) shows that I’m credentialed through that outlet as opposed to some freelancer shooting for myself,” Irwin explained.

Irwin says that compromising his portfolio images by embedding credit watermarks is not an ideal solution, but he is relieved that he can restore his online portfolio at SportsShooter.com.

“It’s a tough thing right now,” Irwin said. “In a sense (the watermark credit) does bring a resolution to it. It’s not 100 percent favorable; it’s not the best outcome I would have chosen… But it’s better than where we were when we started, that’s for sure,” he said.

Please see these earlier, related stories: Syracuse University's Credential Threat Raises Copyright Ownership Questions; and College Athletics v. Photojournalists, A Matchup Of Property Rights.