Illinois Press Association sues Illinois High School Association

As the headline says, the IPA is suing the IHSA. The IHSA has set restrictions on how photos and video from high school sporting events can be used – limiting still photos to printed newspaper stories only and video to 30 second clips, a maximum of two minutes per game and not to be used for more than two days after an event.


They’ve signed a contract with Visual Image Photography for the “exclusive and unlimited access to IHSA tournament locations and photo opportunities.”

There’s a slippery slope in here that I’ve mentioned before, but the IHSA’s action has huge issues in its limitations on how a newspaper uses images for editorial purposes. It would be extremely hard to say a paper’s web site is not an editorial usage. It would also be difficult to deny the editorial value of archived stories – or stories that are season-wrap ups.

The problem for newspapers comes when they start to defend their rights to sell reprints, as that is a fairly clear commercial, i.e. non-editorial, usage of the images. Granted, those images are going into private hands and not being used for publications, but a portrait photographer, for example, is in different realm than a photojournalist. The value in the formers images is the specific subject whereas in the latter it’s in the moment or story the subject represents – the individual could have been replaced by someone else, doing the same thing, and still had value.

Newspapers will defend their reprints as a public service, which to some extent they are. The problem may arise when they defend their pricing. As a “public service” you’re implying there is no profit margin on those reprints, which I know is not the case. If you’re doing it in-house, the prints are costing you a dollar or two and you’re selling them for $20-30 each.

There are some newspapers that are treading on extremely dangerous grounds by generating “web galleries” that have limited or no editorial value – dumping everything that’s sharp online and hoping to either drive traffic to the web site or make reprint sales. There’s no storytelling aspect to those galleries and could, in my non-legal opinion, be considered commercial ventures.

The IPA and their 600 member newspapers are on the right track – but they need to make sure the reprint issues isn’t brought into this because, again in my non-legal opinion, that’s been thin ice for years and will only get thinner. As for the IHSA, think – without local newspapers covering high school athletics, you essentially cease to exist in certain communities.

To that end, if the Illinois High School Association doesn’t back down and admit they have overstepped their bounds here, then the Illinois Press Association should explain to their readers why there is no coverage of high school sports in their paper. The parents’ outrage should send a clear message.

Mark E. Johnson

1 Response

  1. but high school are one public property/are public areas…? right? I have always been confused about that.haz

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