Court: Wisconsin High Schools Can Sell Exclusive Streaming Rights For Sports Events
August 26, 2011 at 4:21 AM (PT)
A panel of the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court's judgment that WISCONSIN high schools may sell exclusive streaming rights to sports coverage. The ruling came in the case of the WISCONSIN INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, which sold exclusive streaming rights to AMERICAN-HIFI to its football playoffs, limiting streaming or clips used by other organizations to no longer than two minutes without AMERICAN-HIFI's permission. The GANNETT WISCONSIN newspapers objected and streamed four football playoff games, and the WIAA demanded a fee and then filed for declaratory judgment, with the papers defending themselves on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds.
The court ruled that the issue was contractual, not constitutional, and rejected the contention that the games are public events to which the WIAA cannot restrict news access. "The implications of GANNETT’s arguments are staggering: if it is correct, then no state actor may ever earn revenue from something that the press might want to broadcast in its entirety," the court opinion by Chief Judge WILLIAM M. CONLEY said, adding "(S)treaming or broadcasting an event is not the same thing as reporting on or describing it."
"An exclusive contract for transmission of an event is not a gag order or 'prior restraint' on speech about government activities," wrote CONLEY. "The media are free under the policy to talk and write about the events to their hearts’ content. What they cannot do is to appropriate the entertainment product that WIAA has created without paying for it. WIAA has the right to package and distribute its performance; nothing in the First Amendment confers on the media an affirmative right to broadcast entire performances."