Press takes on sports world in battle over media rights

NPA wants publishers to control copyright of material from sports events

National newspapers are preparing for war this summer against organisers of major sports and entertainment events.

Fed up with the growing number of exorbitant demands for increased fees and more and more editorial and copyright control, the Newspaper Publishers Association has drawn up a draft accreditation document for all events which gives publishers total control of copyright of their photographs and material.

It is to present the draft document to organisers together with a series of “principles” they believe should be the basis for all agreements, whether with the FA Premier League or the organisers of the Party in the Park.

Last year, the nationals were so incensed at the number of bodies making new demands – in particular the British Horseracing Board’s “preposterous” hike in fees for printing racecards – that they rebelled. They took sponsors’ names off the racecards and, in some cases, refused to print the cards. The BHB caved in.

The row had put the securing of sports media rights “much higher up on the radar of senior newspaper publisher management”, said the NPA.

Maybe that victory emboldened them, but there is a definite feeling across the board that if the NPA does not get satisfaction with its new accreditation conditions, similar salvoes could follow.

The strategy has been devised after 2002 brought disputes with the organisers of the Wimbledon tennis championships, the British Open Golf tournament, Celtic Football Club, the Nationwide League, the BHB and, this year, with the London Marathon.

Negotiations continue with the English Rugby Premier League while discussions are again under way with the FA Premier League because the current three-year agreement expires at the end of this season.

NPA director Steve Oram and News International NPA council member Andy Moger have been to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make it aware of the escalating problem and what the association proposes doing about it. Oram said: “There is likely to be an almighty row with the FA Premier League if it proposes what it has indicated privately it is likely to propose – which goes far beyond even previous restrictions.”

“The draft document emphasises the point that we feel is contually missing from sports organisations, which is an understanding of the benefit media coverage gives to them and which we think they have completely undervalued.

“Given that the publisher holds the copyright, then he should have the ability to use those rights.”

Some of the past demands had been absurd, he claimed, with, for example, Celtic in “cloud-cuckoo-land” when saying it would hold the copyright of all photographs taken of its matches and players.

The FA Premier League at one stage had wanted control over any stories about themselves which the clubs did not like.

“We cannot allow that. Editorial freedom is sacrosanct,” said Moger.

He pointed out the benefits to the organisers of newspaper publicity: a popular audience of 40 million readers and, indirectly, the attraction of sponsors.

The new proposed accreditation form, he said, would establish a single pro forma document for all national newspaper editorial floors and events press offices.

It says plainly that, in applying for accreditation, a newspaper will not agree to any conditions seeking to restrict its right to photos and material.

POINTS OF PRINCIPLE

 

To enshrine editorial freedom as fundamental principle.
Reflect the existing mutual benefits arising to both publishers and events.
Accept newspapers will have new methods of bringing content to readers.
Allow sports bodies to protect trademarks and recognise their legitimate commercial interests.
Help sports bodies protect their copyright against counterfeiters.
Establish umbrella agreements between publishers and events organisers through the NPA.
Encourage terms for contracts that take into account financial benefits of coverage from newspapers, writers, photographers and newsroom staff.

By Jean Morgan

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