Picture this. You attend a football, soccer, basketball or volleyball game at your child's high school -- which your tax dollars paid to build and operate. You take some pictures. Then this little guy with a scowl comes up and says you should hand them over -- you're officially working for him now.
Would this bother you? Would it seem like your rights just got trampled?
That's how we feel about the Arizona Interscholastic Association -- the outfit that says it owns all the photographs taken by journalists at high school events.
Fortunately, the group that manages high school athletic competition isn't so nutso it wants to control family photos -- but it is defending the absurd notion it should own the photos taken by community journalists. It's basically an effort to cash in on the efforts of others -- but it could end up damaging the relationship between schools and the news media and limiting coverage of school sports.
AIA wants publications to sign a credentialing agreement that says: "All rights and title to the copyrights contained within any work created by the individual and/or the individual's organization by recording any portion of the event in any audio, media, visual media, or audiovisual media shall be deemed the sole property of the AIA."
In other words -- photographers are stripped of rights considered important enough to make it into the First Amendment when they step onto a high school campus.
We won't sign any such agreement.
But we thought we'd clue you in to what's happening -- just in case you read about a Roundup photographer getting evicted from a game -- or the AIA prevents us from covering a high school game or playoff series.
The AIA insists they're really just trying to protect students and teams from pseudo journalists -- by requiring credentials. But the clear language of the contact goes far beyond protecting schools -- it claims ownership of someone else's work.
The AIA insists the contract doesn't mean what it says and it would only affect playoffs -- not individual high school games. It says newspapers can still publish its photos and post them on web sites (for a limited time) or give them away -- something we have frequently done in the past.
But the contract would in theory require AIA approval for any of those actions. Moreover, the contract bars sale of those photos without permission -- or perhaps without paying AIA a fee. Currently, we very rarely sell photos -- but still object to that provision on principle.
The AIA revealed the real purpose of the rule when it made deals with some newspapers to collect a cut of any money made from selling prints of photos taken by journalists at these public events. They also gave contracts to others to photograph games and then sell those photos to parents, schools and players -- something the Roundup has historically provided free to the school.
AIA says we should only pay attention to a release that Brian Bolitho, an AIA official, sent to high school athletic directors -- and ignore the wording of the contact itself.
Right. We're journalists. We don't think words matter.
But the plain language of the contract says the AIA will own the copyright for any photo taken by a credentialed journalist at an AIA sponsored event -- which could mean any high school game.
But why should you care? Why does it matter that some obscure agency dictates what journalists and other members of the public can do while covering a public event in taxpayer-owned facilities?
First - these events take place on public property -- and involve teams funded by the taxpayers. The AIA has no right to control the public's access to that event. The AIA is funded by taxpayer money sent to them by schools.
Second -- the coverage papers like the Roundup devote to high school sports serves a vital community purpose -- and AIA has no right to profiteer from that coverage, which already offers a benefit to AIA members.
Third -- the Roundup feels a solemn obligation to protect unfettered access to information and events on behalf of our readers. We will not barter that obligation away.
So we will not sign the credential form.
If that means we cannot cover important events, then the AIA will be punishing the kids who play on those teams -- all in the name of shaking down newspapers for spare change.
We hope that you will protect the public's access to high school sporting events by letting both the AIA and the Payson Unified School District Board members know what you think.
And we hope that you will forgive us if at some point we cannot cover the high school sporting events that we so dearly love. But we believe that you cannot protect the public's rights to information by signing them away.