Technology & touchdowns

by Deaundra Cash

June 3, 2011

Tully panelists discuss who has the right to cover sporting events—and how

"When Rights Collide" panelists (l to r) Bob Costas '74, John Keib and Mickey Osterreicher.

The Tully Center for Free Speech held three fall seminars covering current legal issues related to sports coverage, Internet censorship and deceptive advertising on October 2 at the Newhouse School. Panelists from across the country updated students on the law and various legal arguments on each topic.

The featured seminar of the day, “When Rights Collide: Sports Coverage vs. Branding,” included panelists Bob Costas '74, sportscaster with NBC; John Keib, president of residential services for the Northeast/national region of Time Warner Cable; and Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel with the National Press Photographers. Panelists discussed the increasing legal restrictions placed on journalists, videographers and photographers covering sports by networks, pro teams and universities.  

New media tools like blogs, Twitter and direct audio/video capture set wirelessly to websites have increased the number of individuals seeking to cover live action sports. When large media companies own the property rights of networks, teams and universities, as well as the copyrights to cover sporting events, what legal restrictions do sports journalists have to follow in order to seek protection for their brands and contract for exclusive rights?

“Rather than this being First Amendment issues, these are largely copyright issues and at this point, issues that need to be litigated to figure out who is entitled to do what to whom,” said David Rubin, panel facilitator and Newhouse Dean Emeritus. 

As a representative of a cable network, Keib said, “We would be assuming the linear rights to the broadcast of that event in order to put it on TV.” Videographers can then cover the event under those rights.  “For the vast majority of the things they (journalists) could possibly do, we certainly wouldn’t have an issue with most of them,” he continued.  “The problem is if someone is sitting in the stands with a handheld camera and tries to stream live video.”

Osterreicher explained the terms and conditions journalists, especially photographers, have to abide by when posting event information to the Internet. “What I would be able to do would depend on what I had agreed to by signing the terms and conditions.” Web journalists have to know whether they give up their copyrights when signing this agreement. If they don’t agree to these terms, Osterreicher said, “There’s enough outlet, enough bandwidth, enough outlets for publicity that they would say ‘fine, don’t come.’”

Costas did not feel like NBC has much to worry about legally because of the prestige of the network and their extensive coverage of sports events. “The value of NBC brings people to watch our events,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter if the results get out. There is no threat from people in the stands taking picture and videos.”

Deaundra Cash is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.