IHSA should stick to battles on the court, not in courtrooms

Donelle Whiting

We do not mean to brag, but we think our sports photographs are awesome.

The latest technology of photography and printing have come together at this point in time to allow us to take dynamic, action-packed photographs, then to reproduce them with stunning clarity and color.

Put the right camera in the hands of a skilled craftsman, and the results give readers a photographic report of sporting events like we have never before been able to give you.

These photographs allow you, the reader, to see up close, the faces of our community’s young athletes in the heat of competition.

These photographs convey the drama of the events that unfold at our local high schools.

These photographs are treasured keepsakes for the young people and their families.

When readers see photographs of sons or daughters in the newspaper, they often want a copy of that photograph. Sometimes parents tell us they want to frame them and hang these photos in their homes. Sometimes they just want the photographic record to press inside the family photo album.

But the Illinois High School Association wants to put a stop to all that. It wants only its own, contracted photographers to have distribution rights to photographs taken at IHSA events.

As a matter of fact, the IHSA has gone so far as to ban newspaper photographers who refused to sign a waiver of ownership rights from some of the most important sporting events in Illinois — most notably, the state football championships.

The IHSA claims it “owns” these events and, therefore, owns the sole rights to market photographs taken there.

The IHSA is now saying that it never intended to keep newspaper photographers from snapping photographs at the state’s athletic competitions. It is now saying it just does not want newspapers selling photographs taken at IHSA athletic competitions.

Hmmmm. We are talking about photographs taken by a member of the press, in the course of covering a public event in a public building that was paid for by tax dollars, and IHSA officials presume to think their organization should have sole rights to the photographic images captured there.

TimesNewspapers and the other member newspapers of the Illinois Press Association are in a battle with the IHSA over our right to control and distribute our newspaper products as we choose.

In particular, the battle has been waged over whether we own the sports photos we shoot at IHSA events, or whether the IHSA can dictate what newspapers can do with those photos beyond the immediate coverage of the news event.

Be assured, for newspapers, this is not about the money. Newspapers do not earn significant dollars from the sale of photo reprints.

As a matter of fact, last year, TimesNewspapers earned a total of $677 for all photos reprinted from the pages of all five of our local newspapers.

This is the income derived from all community photos we sold, not just sports photos. You can buy an 8 -by-10 reprint from us for a whopping $12. This charge is for not only the reproduction costs of the photograph, but staff time required to locate the particular digital photograph ordered, sending it out for printing and then driving to pick it up.

For us, this battle is about our belief that newspaper professionals have the right to control their products, as protected forms of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The state press association filed a complaint in circuit court and introduced legislation in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly, which attempt to clarify that neither the government nor its actor/representative (in this case, the IHSA) can tell newspapers how to create, publish or distribute its products.

The IHSA took the battle a step further last week when the organization sent letters to principals in the state asking them to require newspaper photographers to sign waivers. These waivers would prohibit the photographer and the newspaper from selling reprints from the event.

We here at TimesNewspapers always get in an uproar about First Amendment rights violations, and, of course, we think everyone else should, too. After all, anytime the government starts sticking its nose into the workings of the free press, we should all be nervous.

But if you are not the type to get up-in-arms about violations of First Amendment rights, then maybe you will get a little miffed about the government saying you are not entitled to purchase a copy of a photograph of your child, because it was not taken by their own photographer.

No matter how good the photograph, no matter how memorable the game, no matter how stupendous your child’s accomplishment — you cannot buy a copy of the photograph, because it was taken by a member of the press.