- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Sports leagues and the news organizations that cover them offered differing opinions Wednesday about their rights to publish online at an Australian Senate inquiry into how technology is changing sport coverage.

An increasingly intense dispute has evolved between the media as it has embraced digital delivery of news via Internet and mobile platforms and sports organizers, who want the right to license what is published beyond strictly breaking news.

David Tomlin, The Associated Press’ associate general counsel, told the Senate’s inquiry into the reporting of sports news and the emerging digital media that sports leagues and organizers were entering the publishing arena with their own web sites and digital deals and competing for advertising and other revenue.

By imposing increasingly restrictive terms and conditions for accreditation of traditional media, the organizations could diminish impartial coverage of the facts.

“Sports entities will be able in the long run to take over the reporting of the history of their sports and no one can be entrusted to tell their entire history by themselves,” Tomlin said via telephone link from the United States. “Their right to tell their story is the same as ours (the media) and all of us ought to have access equally.”

Some sports organizers are trying to use the terms that grant journalists and photographers access to venues they control to impose limits on distribution.

Sports organizers argue that media outlets are eroding their potential revenue by providing video streaming and photo archives on the Internet, saying that it is unfair use of content they own and could license for profit.

News organizations say they should not be prevented from covering news events that are in the public interest _ something both organizers and media outlets agree that big sports events are.

Under existing conditions, news organizations or journalists own copyright of images and words they produce at matches. Increasingly, leagues are asserting that they should own copyright or intellectual property rights to photographic images and events that occur within the venues they control _ the contests themselves.

Sports administrators are asking the Australian government to legislate or set guidelines on the “fair use” exemption in the Copyright Act, which enshrines media access for the purpose of gathering and providing news.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said the definition of news had been turned on its head by the ability of digital media to make content available indefinitely online, as opposed to the limited life of content in traditional media such as newspapers.

Media should be able to provide news stories and photographs of sports events, but granting news groups unfettered use of that content indefinitely online was unfair use of organizers’ property under the Copyright Act, he argued.

Tomlin rejected that view, saying the copyright for reports and photographs published by The Associated Press reside with the not-for-profit cooperative and its journalists.

“The sports entities have no intellectual property interest whatsoever in our news reports, though some appear to imagine that they do,” Tomlin said.

Cricket Australia wants regulations set to strengthen the rights of sports organizers in the digital media.

“If that’s not possible, some guidelines that actually give everyone working in that (digital) space some additional comfort and understanding on the way this content … is able to be used,” Sutherland told the inquiry.

Sutherland’s position was backed by the Coalition of Major Professional Sports, a group comprising Cricket Australia, the National Rugby League, the Australian Rugby Union, Football Federation Australia, the Australian Football League and Tennis Australia.

Protracted negotiations between Cricket Australia and the major international news agencies, including The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence-France Presse, failed to solve an impasse last season over terms and conditions for accreditation.

The international news agencies were unable to cover Australia’s home series against New Zealand and South Africa after refusing to accept terms that restricted the number of photographs and stories published per hour and gave Cricket Australia the right to veto publication to certain Web sites.

That followed disputes at the Rugby World Cup in 2007, which were only resolved when the French government put pressure on organizers to back down from restrictive terms, and leading into the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Australian media organizations will appear at the inquiry on Thursday.

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