Copyright row threatens Open golf press coverage

Els: winner of last year’s Open

National newspapers are meeting the first challenge to their new strategy for reporters and photographers to have unrestricted access to sporting and entertainment events.

Copyright demands from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club will restrict newspapers’ freedom to exploit their copyright from material gathered at The Open in July, they have discovered. If the issue is not addressed in time for the tournament there may be a re-run of the boycott by newspapers over the British Horseracing Board’s and Celtic Football Club’s demands on copyright and fees earlier this year which forced their governing bodies into U-turns.

After a meeting to review the R&A’s new conditions last week, Newspaper Publishers’ Association director Steve Oram said: “What the R&A proposes is not consistent with allowing the owner of copyright to do what the owner of copyright ought to be able to do. Those terms were considered and believed to be very seriously restrictive.”

The NPA has informed the club of its views and Oram said newspapers would make up their own minds whether they will cover the event.

At the end of this month, there is the initial two-day meeting for the walkabout of the course, at Royal St George’s, Sandwich, which is hosting The Open this year. Several groups are considering whether or not to attend.

Colin Gibson, sports editor of the Daily Mail, said: “I’m sure we are looking at the whole question of accreditation very closely and at the restrictions people are trying to place upon us. If we were to concede ground to any individual organisation, I am sure we would find it was the thin end of the wedge. Who knows where their attempts to control the media would end?”

Colin Harrow, group managing editor at MGN, said: “Everybody is jumping on this bandwagon and if you give in to one, you just open the doors.”

Some groups fear that others, more concerned with costs than principles, will break ranks and do a deal.

An R&A spokesman said: “The Royal and Ancient is aware of the importance of maintaining a good working relationship with the media and is looking forward to welcoming them to Royal St George’s in July.

“We have attempted to address specific concerns in our revised accreditation documents while at the same time protecting our own interests.”

Meanwhile, in a separate move, sports photographers and writers within the National Association of Press Agencies have formed the NAPA Sports Group to negotiate jointly with a number of sport governing bodies over licensing and accreditation.

The NAPA-SG had its first meeting shortly before Easter and discussed the first major task – to renegotiate with Football DataCo over the photographic licence and writers’ accreditation agreements, both of which are due for discussion this summer.

By Jean Morgan

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