Thursday, June 11, 2009

Legal battle continues over local sports coverage

After airing a live high school football game on its Web site last November, The Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis., along with parent Gannett Co. and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, is being sued by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. Editor and Publisher reports that the legal scuffle is principally what events and mediums newspapers have the right to cover, an issue that has arisen in many states.

The WIAA maintains that it owns the rights to the game because it organized, supervised and sponsored the event. The suit also alleges that the Post-Crescent's decision to air the game infringed upon the association's ability to generate revenue, although WIAA is only seeking online rights and no monetary damages. Newspaper advocates from Wisconsin, Arizona and Illinois, as well as Gannett and the The Associated Press, are supporting The Post-Crescent's decision. Dan Flannery, executive editor of The Post-Crescent, told Editor and Publisher, "We believe news organizations should be free to cover news with whatever technologies are at our disposal. We don't believe it's WIAA's jurisdiction to tell us how to operate our business."

The case, which is scheduled for trial Feb. 8, is being closely watched by athletic organizations and newspaper groups across the country as Peter Fox, executive director of the WNA, says this case "has advanced further in the legal system than in any other state." Don Craven, an attorney who represented the Illinois Press Association in a similar case two years ago, says WIAA's suit is largely based on TV revenue. "They don't own a commodity to sell, market or otherwise control," he said. "They should put on a very nice tournament and get out of the news business."
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