June 13, 2007
NCAA Calls Foul on Reporter's Blogging

It's not just the pros who want control. Over the weekend the NCAA ejected a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter from a college baseball championship for live-blogging the game. Brian Bennet reports that he had been posting updates throughout the game on his Courier-Journal blog, until, at the bottom of the fifth inning, "an NCAA representative came to my seat on press row and asked for my credential and asked me to leave. I complied."

Apparently, according to a memo NCAA circulated, the college athletic association believes that live-blogging interferes with its revenue streams from broadcast licenses:

The College World Series Media Coordination staff along with the NCAA Broadcasting group needs to remind all media coordinators that any statistical or other live representation of the Super Regional games falls under the exclusive broadcasting and Internet rights granted to the NCAA's official rights holders and therefore is not allowed by any other entity. Since blogs are considered a live representation of the game, any blog that has action photos or game reports, including play-by-play, scores or any in-game updates, is specifically prohibited. In essence, no blog entries are permitted between the first pitch and the final out of each game.

Now there are legal and policy questions here: First off, this wasn't a copyright or misappropriation claim. If the reporter had watched or listened to a broadcast and blogged details from there, the NCAA would have no claim against him (see NBA v. Motorola, where the basketball association lost just such a claim). It can't claim ownership of the facts, even if it currently makes money from selling privileged access to the facts.

Instead, the NCAA was clamping down on the data through a claimed right to control physical access to the game, at least to the press box. Was the NCAA within its legal rights to revoke a press credential? Probably. The NCAA has no obligation to issue press credentials, and apart from anti-discrimination law, can condition them on whatever arbitrary terms it likes. But David Price points out another twist: The University of Louisville, where the game was played, is a public institution, subject to First Amendment limitations on the speech-limiting rules it can impose. Can it ban speech or allow others to do so on its space based on claimed disruption to a business deal? Does it depend whether a baseball stadium is a "public forum"? (Under current law, it's probably not.)

Finally, there's the policy. Even if banning bloggers is legally permissible, it;s silly. Silly of the NCAA to think it can keep up this kind of control, silly of licensees to see blogs as a substitute to what they're licensing, and silly of schools to endorse and accept such policies for their student athletes' games. Exclusivity of facts is unlikely to last long in practice, as the Courier-Journal reports: "The Oregonian newspaper in Portland decided to work around the rules by blogging Oregon State's game against Michigan on Sunday off a radio broadcast in its newsroom, said its executive editor, Peter Bhatia. He said the newspaper heard no objections from the NCAA and planned to do the same yesterday."

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