The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled over a year ago in a case brought by Gannett Newspapers, which owns USA Today and several regional papers, including one in Wisconsin that wanted to broadcast the games that were part of the state’s high school basketball championship. The court ruled the state’s high school athletic association could give a single organization the exclusive right to broadcast the tournament games but could not restrict news coverage of the events, which could include a limited amount of delayed video or audio.
The case has far-reaching implications among newspapers in covering school activities, because the court found Gannett’s argument “staggering” in attempting to claim that the high school athletic association, one essentially like the Illinois High School Association, was acting as a public school. Even if they were, the court ruled, that does not give newspapers any copyright interest in the works performed or the games played by the public schools.
For example, this website, like a newspaper site, can cover school events—basketball games, concerts, and so on—by writing, say, an editorial, news story, publishing a few pictures, and even, according to the Seventh Circuit, play a few minutes of live video selected from the game. But when it comes to broadcasting the game from end to end or providing play-by-play accounts while the contest is in progress, nobody has that right except the IHSA (or the school in the case of a concert or a game that’s not part of a state series).
Of course, the IHSA charges for broadcast rights (news organizations don’t have to pay anything for “coverage,” thanks to the First Amendment), and some of those exclusive broadcast contracts can be lucrative and bring in future revenues for the third party in terms of the sale of videos and so on. And since the IHSA is not a public body, the details of these contracts are often not available to the public for inspection.
Linda Chapa LaVia
Now a representative from Aurora wants to challenge this ruling and examine the IHSA’s pay-per-view rights that it has released to the National Federation of High School Athletic Association, the Northwest Herald reports.
In introducing House Resolution 895 on March 6, Linda Chapa LaVia said “Illinois high schools should be aware of the funds generated by these contracts between the IHSA and vendors and suppliers, as well as the revenues generated by the athletic contests in which Illinois’s student athletes participate.”
The resolution urges the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education to hold subject matter hearings on the administration and funding of high school sports, the safety of high school athletes, the systems and protocols of the IHSA, the costs and income associated with the administration of high school sports, and the feasibility of statutorily transferring the duties and functions of the IHSA to the State Board of Education.
The IHSA, for its part, seemed confused by the resolution.
“We have no idea what concerns the Representative might have, because she has not contacted the Association regarding this resolution,” the association said in a statement posted to its website. “However, we do know that over the course of the last decade the Association has expanded its sport and activity programs, giving over 300,000 high school students a year an opportunity to represent their schools in interscholastic competition. The Association has also worked with schools and other organizations — including the Illinois General Assembly — to make interscholastic programs safer, eliminated membership dues and participation fees, balanced its budget, funded its pension, shared millions of dollars of revenue with its members, and created great partnerships with communities such as Peoria and East Peoria, generating millions of tourism dollars all around Illinois.
“We fail to see how such conduct warrants any type of intervention or investigation,” the statement concluded.