Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The SEC, The AP, and Gannett Clash Over Rights

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is in a clash with the Associated Press and Gannett over the rights to images and narratives of their sporting events. Lets start out with a few things first - The SEC is a collegiate athletic league that holds sporting events on their campus, usually in closed arenas or stadiums, where a price is paid for admission to what is easily argued is "entertainment". The Associated Press is a newsgathering cooperative that works for its members to cover the world, spreading the cost of that coverage over the multiple members who get images and text that they can then publish in their papers, drawing readers. Gannett is a for-profit corporation that does the same thing for each of its individual papers.

Each entity has a profit motive. While the AP's profits may be returned to the company to cover other costs, the member schools of the SEC are looking to grow revenue for their own betterment, and Gannett is looking to grow revenue to inflate their profits.

The problem is, as outlined (here) at Editor & Publisher, is that the AP and Gannett don't like being told what/where/how/when and why they can, and can't sell pictorial depictions or narrative descriptions of the SEC entertainment events. This is not the first time that sports entertainment entities have clashed with media conglomerates and cooperatives over profit-making masquerading as entitlement "news coverage" of these entertainment events.

What, though, should a photographer learn, or take away, from this clash?

(Continued after the Jump)

The individual photographer should realize that if reuse/resale/repurposing rights weren't of value to these outlets, they wouldn't be insisting that the individual photographers give them away for every assignment, and they wouldn't be fighting so hard to keep them so they can resell them at a later date.

In the runup to this seasons' college football season, The SEC has imposed new rules on the use of content that covering media conglomerates may make for free. Let's get one thing really clear here - the AP and Gannett (and others) are paying zero dollars to the SEC to cover these events, from pre-game to post-game. In an era when there was no cable television, and all sports scores and highlights came from the newspaper, all sports entertainment had to give a free pass to those who were making pictures and writing stories. That era is over.

In August of 2008, ESPN paid $2.25 Billion for whatever TV rights CBS did not already have, for 15 years. Just prior to that, CBS paid $800 million for a 15 year deal. $3 billion dollars for 15 years equates to $200,000,000 per year in valuation, much of which is attributable to the SEC football valuation.

Thus, when you're paying $200M per year, it would stand to reason that you would object to a newspaper posting their own video and audio game highlights on their own websites, especially when those websites make it less likely for a fans eyeballs to visit the ESPN or CBS websites. It would also stand to reason that you would be objecting when newspaper reporters are liveblogging the game, which would also diminish the likelihood of people listening to CBS or ESPN radio, or getting their own ad-driven blog feeds.

Further, photographs are being restricted from being sold beyond day-to-day coverage needs. In other words, covering media conglomerates can send a photographer, and provide those images to their papers, subscribers, or member newspapers regarding coverage of that game. However, these same conglomerates can't cut into the control and resale possibilities that the SEC would have of images from a particular game by selling images or stories themselves.

Another interesting point is that, in exchange for the AP/et al getting free access to generate intellectual property (i.e. images) for distribution to their members, the SEC need not fully employ a photo staff to cover each game since they are requiring the rights to use the images from all covering entities (AP/Gannett/etc) for whatever they want. Thus, if you are an SEC school photographer, you will likely not need to travel with the team as much, since every photographer/organization who signs the contract will be the reason you aren't going.

Once again, let's return to the freelance photographer. I want to make sure you get this point - when you're covering any assignment, and you justify to yourself why you signed away all your rights to images from the assignment, remember that when the AP was told that they could cover and use the images the next day for stories on the game, but that they could not resell as stock those same images you made for them and gave them the rights to, they said no. They objected, because they know that your images you gave them are valuable to resell and repurpose.

What about audio and video value? I know of many a colleague who has been asked by publications across the country "hey, can you get me some audio when you're not shooting, and also, since you have that camera that can shoot video, please shoot me some wide stadium video too." And then when you ask for additional compensation for that, they say "hey, it's just audio for the slideshow online..." or "we just need some video for the opener of your still gallery" and then suggest that they are already paying you, and thus it's really not worth any more, that, maybe, it actually IS worth more. Heck, it makes the galleries more engaging. Oh, it makes you feel like you were there! Hey! Isn't that what ESPN and CBS paid $3,000,000,000 for?

The networks make money off the commercials, just as the newspapers make money off the ads that are adjacent to the sports photos. The fact that newspapers got a free ride for this long is remarkable. The SEC (and every other sports league) has put up with free "news coverage" for as long as it suited their needs for free publicity. Now, they are not beholden to the AP/Gannett/et al, and media conglomerates are paying for the right to distribute the content that is created at these events.

Let me be very clear here though, I am not saying that anyone should sign away what the SEC is demanding. No organization should give away the intellectual property they create at these events any more than the individual freelance photographer should sign away their intellectual property rights when working for these organizations. Just as I would suggest to a freelance photographer that they not sign these bad deals and walk away, so should these organizations. Or, perhaps these organizations could enter into a licensing deal with the SEC to share a portion of the resale proceeds, just as they should fairly do for their freelancers. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Any organization that demands all rights/work-for-hire from its' independent contractors with the intent of repurposing/profiting from the content produced, shouldn't be so surprised when other entities insist on the same from them.

At a time when the AP is not completely prepared or ready to take over the NFL contract from Getty Images, this could actually work out to their advantage. They were already going to be understaffing the NFL games, so perhaps the planned cadre of SEC photographers can be dispatched to the NFL? For AP photo-wise, this could be a good thing.

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You TOOL said...

I was wondering when/if you were going to write something about this subject.

As much as I respect the AP for all they've done historically for fair and balanced news coverage; I'm also happy that they now have to go through what many photographers have had to deal with as far as the unfair rights grabs that the AP and others have forced upon their freelancers.

The AP has to remember that going to a sporting event is NOT a right just because they a "covering" the game. After many years of having the advantage of "just showing up" and expecting a favorable place on the sideline or press box; they now are slowly finding out that they are just another "guest".

A "guest" that will take photos or video of a trademarked uniform at a game where the rights have already been bought for millions of dollars that will be exploited and shown on TV, cable, PPV, the websites of those who paid for those rights and the website of the universities that are part of the SEC.

Basically with the dissemination of news stories and the accompanying photos and video being done by the colleges own staffers the SEC doesn't need the AP or any of the wire services in attendance especially if they choose to rock the boat and give the respective universities headaches.

This kind of reminds you of what has been done/said to us in the past when presented with the "new" rights grabbing contracts doesn't it?

Well; I for one applaud the SEC for giving the "rights grabbers" a lesson in humility so that they can feel what it's like to have to wonder how to turn this experience into something that will be a positive situation; something that the AP and others have NOT really cared too much about when our livelihoods were at stake.

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