Law Letting Papers Sell High School Sports Photos Sails Through Ill. Senate Panel

By: Mark Fitzgerald

A law that would guarantee Illinois newspapers can sell photos they take of high school sports tournaments appears to be on the fast track to passage in the state legislature.

An Illinois Senate panel sent the bill to the floor on an 8-1 vote late last week.

The legislation, pushed hard by the Illinois Press Association (IPA), comes in reaction to incidents this fall and winter in which newspaper photographers were not allowed close access to tournament games and matches because they would not promise not to sell the photos to the public. Photographers were barred from the sidelines. Some newspapers took photos from the stands, while others refused to run any photos from the tournaments, and told readers why.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) imposed the rule to assure exclusive photo rights to the games by a Wisconsin business called VIP. IHSA argues VIP deserves the exclusive access because it also photographs less popular tournaments in sports such as chess or bowling. And it says the dispute with newspapers is about commerce, not the First Amendment.

But the IPA contends the IHSA’s actions go the very heart of a free press.

The restrictions are the topic of the editorial in the current March print Editor & Publisher. “It’s not just about sports photography,” IPA Executive Director Dave Bennett told E&P for that piece, “it’s about the right of newspapers to protect their product without government interference, which is a much larger issue.”

The editorial also noted that attempts to give exclusive photo resale rights have been made by the prep sports association in Alabama. Arkansas newspapers have reported similar attempts in that state.

IPA has also sued the IHSA over the restrictions. In the lawsuit, the press association notes that the revenue stream from selling tournament shots to the public is tiny. According to The State Journal-Register in Springfield, sales of photo reprints from all IHSA tournaments last year amounted to just $454.

Parents have also complained about the policy to their representatives, Illinois lawmakers say.
For instance, Democratic Sen. Susan Garrett told the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights that she supported the law because the restrictions are a “roadblock” to families or schools who want to buy the newspaper photos.

“The more I hear about this, the more obvious this is to me that we need legislation,” Garrett said, according to the account by Daily Herald reporter Amber Krosel.

With legislative hearings set and the lawsuit filed, the IHSA earlier this month temporarily lifted its restrictions during the boys and girls prep basketball state championship rounds.

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