Revised MLB Press Credential Agreement ‘may be satisfactory’

The Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) accepted Major League Baseball’s credential agreement April 8, 2008 after nearly six weeks of negotiations concerning game photos and video clips posted on the Internet.

The dispute arose over questions about who owns the “content” of baseball games. Photographers say the pictures they take belong to them and the news organizations they work for, but baseball executives maintain that they have a right to control use of the images because they own the “content” – the game itself.

The APSE, The Associated Press (AP), the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME), and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) objected to language in the proposed agreement that prohibited newspapers from posting more than seven game photos online and required that they remove all photos within 72 hours unless the photos were accompanied by an article about the game. When the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics opened the season March 25 in Japan, the APSE cautioned its members to sign the agreement only “under protest.”

The original agreement also explicitly prohibited “photo galler[ies]” – Web-based collections of photographs depicting baseball games – and it called for the baseball commissioner’s office to retain the authority to define “photo gallery” at “its sole discretion.”

Baseball is not the first professional sports league to attempt to control news coverage of its events. Others – including football, golf, and rugby – have achieved varying degrees of success restricting coverage of sporting events in the past. (See “News Organizations Fight Limits on Access to Sports Events” in the Fall 2007 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)

In separate letters to baseball Commissioner Allan (Bud) Selig, the AP, APME, and NPPA rejected the original credential proposal in late February 2008.

“As society moves deeper into the digital age, newspaper coverage – including work done on our Web sites – must continue to chronicle America’s pastime with the same depth and heart that we’ve displayed since the game’s inception,” APME President David Ledford wrote in a letter to Selig. “Please don’t handcuff the institutions which for more than a century have drawn millions of fans to [baseball] by chronicling the great moments and the great players that have kept baseball vibrant through times good and bad.”

In addition to restrictions on photo galleries, the newspaper groups also objected to increased restrictions on “non-text accounts,” including video and audio recordings of baseball games and interviews with players. The agreement called for credentialed reporters to ask for “prior written consent” before transmitting video or audio. The agreement also limited the length of video and audio clips to two minutes and prohibited archiving the content on newspaper Web sites for more than 72 hours.

The original proposal, along with comments from AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin, is available at http://www.apme.com/news/2008/022808mlbcredentials.pdf.

After the newspaper groups rejected the original proposal, representatives from the APSE, the AP, and other groups met with baseball officials to discuss the credential agreement. On March 21, four days before the season opened, Major League Baseball distributed an edited credential agreement to newspaper groups. But the sports editors and the NPPA again rejected the proposed agreement because of continued restrictions on online content.

According to a story on the NPPA’s Web site, the second proposal continued to restrict the number of photos a newspaper could post online and required that the newspaper remove the photos within a specified time. The second proposal also prohibited changing the captions on a photo and posting the content on any Web site other than the newspaper’s “flagship” news site.

“It appears that Major League Baseball is no longer satisfied to have a monopoly on the game itself but now wishes to maximize its profits by controlling the words, sounds and images that come from those games,” NPPA President Tony Overman wrote in the organization’s second letter to Selig. “The 2008 MLB Terms and Conditions of Credentials constitute a blatant act of overreaching into the operation and purpose of a free and unfettered press and interfere with the gathering and dissemination of news by individual photojournalists and the organizations they work for.”

Like the sports editor’s group, the NPPA urged its members to refuse to sign the agreement unless forced “under duress,” a March 27 story on the NPPA Web site said. A March 24 report on the APSE Web site recommended that newspapers agree to abide by the 2007 credential agreement for the 2008 season until an agreement could be reached with Major League Baseball.

The third proposal for a credential agreement appeared April 8. It eliminated the prohibition on photo galleries and the specific restrictions on the number of photos allowed on Web sites. Instead, it called for newspapers to post only a “reasonable” number of game photos on their Web sites, the same language employed by the National Football League’s credential agreement. This time, an article on the APSE Web site greeted the proposal with tepid approval, stating it “may be satisfactory to the majority of the APSE’s membership” and recommending members sign it “conditionally.”

The APSE recommended conditional approval pending additional negotiations predicted to take place in the middle of July, the article said. The ASPE will not support any restrictions on editorial content, the report said. According to an April 24 article from the First Amendment Center, other press groups have continued to oppose the most recent credential agreement.

Journalists must apply for press credentials with individual teams in order to gain access to the clubhouse for interviews with players and coaches after the game. Credentialed journalists also have access to team news conferences. Before a team will issue credentials, the journalist must agree to rules created by Major League Baseball.

The agreement does not enumerate criteria for evaluating credential applicants, but does state that credentials may only be issued to journalists “acting on a specific assignment for a newspaper, or for a press, news or photographic service.”

Although the new agreement loosened restrictions on photo galleries compared to those originally proposed in February, the restrictions on audio and video content remain unchanged. The credential agreement allows newspapers to post audio and video clips recorded on team property that are two minutes long or less. The reporter must provide the team with written notice of intent to provide “non-text accounts” and the clips must be removed from newspaper Web sites within three days. A copy of the credential agreement can be downloaded at http://pressbox.mlb.com/pressbox/credentialing/index.jsp.

Update: Illinois Newspapers Reach Agreement with High School Association

An April 7, 2008 settlement between the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and the Illinois Press Association provides for unrestricted press access to Illinois high school sporting events and complete editorial control for newspapers.

The press association filed suit in November 2007 after the IHSA attempted to limit access to the state football tournament and control the use of press images from the tournament. (See “Illinois Press Association Sues High School Sports Association Over Image Controls” in the Fall 2007 Silha Bulletin.)

“The IHSA will assert no authority to control or regulate the production, distribution or sale of any newspaper product. Nor will any newspaper access credentials to IHSA-sponsored events be conditioned by any limitation on the production, distribution, or sale of any newspaper product,” said the settlement agreement in Illinois Press Association v. Illinois High School Association, No. 07-CH 885 (April 7, 2008).

– Michael Schoepf
Silha Research Assistant

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on October 14, 2009 2:14 PM.

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