Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sporting "Intellectual Property"

You may remember Carolyn Bivens' attempt to commandeer rights to audio, video, and pictures from the Fields Open in Hawaii two years ago. That resulted in a boycott of the event by the AP and the recognition by the LPGA Tour that this was a terrible mistake. Now, though, other sports organizations around the work are looking to target the same kind of concept in their own leagues. What is worse is that they are now forming a unified organization to pursue laws and treaties to this end.

From the International Herald Tribune:

On one side is the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, which formed with little fanfare and now includes 37 sports institutions - from soccer's Premier League and FIFA to cycling's Tour de France to World Snooker - seeking international treaties to "protect and promote the special nature of sport" and its intellectual property rights in a fast-changing digital world.
Of course, the media has - rightfully - fought back...with their own stupid union organization.

On the other side is the News Media Coalition, a temporary name for about 40 news organizations including Reuters and The Associated Press that are in the final stage of creating a permanent group to champion their rights to cover games and publish photographs widely in print and online. And their argument is just as basic: They deserve special recognition as well because of the freedom of the press to cover events critically and independently.

The crux of the issue? Duh, it's money!

Sports organizations are developing their own Web sites and online video programs, and they are keenly interested in protecting their ability to reap revenue from new media content.

The situation is simple. Sports leagues are going to try to make money off of their own on field assets through media. Here in the States, you have channels for many of the major sports leagues. Also, all of the leagues have websites which generate revenue in the form of advertising. How do you charge more to advertise? You prove to a buyer that lots of eyes will see the content. How do you get more eyes to the content? Provide content that you cannot get anywhere else. That's why sports leagues want exclusive rights to images, audio, etc. - it will help them ensure money.

The conflict here is obvious, too. By declaring exclusive rights to this kind of media content, sports leagues are clearly violating the rights of free speech and expression in many countries. Accredited media have a clear right to cover sports and use images, audio, and the like to convey stories in an objective (usually subjective) fashion. There really is nothing that the leagues can do about that.

So, the organizations are both a folly. Without the media, sports leagues inherently fail...and miserably. The LPGA learned this lesson very quickly even though they and the PGA Tour are a part of this union.

The reality, though, is that there will be another type of media in the future. That type is the selfarazzi. By that, I mean that the sports leagues will hire (and already have hired) media that is not objective in its employment to cover themselves in a fashion that will promote the sports leagues and provide exclusive access to the athletes. In essence, they will try to make their own media more relevant by granting higher levels of access in the hopes of generating money and limiting dissent and negative press. It has been happening in politics for years and FEMA's stage press conference related to the California wildfires is a perfect example.

Unfortunately for the sports leagues, though, they will never be granted the right to exclusively cover themselves. It just cannot stand. Besides, if you've ready some of the work produced by "journalists" that are in the back pockets of sports leagues, you know that the quality of content simply is not good enough to any thinking person.

And that, my friends, is why there will never be enough eyes to make exclusivity a reality.

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