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|| News Item: Posted 2001-03-30

Diamond War
The Media Wages a Battle to Fight MLB Credential Use Agreement

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

It's no longer a diamond but a battleground.

Major League Baseball is facing off with the county's biggest media outlets to gain control of their image and apparently, their place on the Internet.

As we come to the final weekend before baseball's annual love-fest, Opening Day, there stands a good chance organizations like the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, AFP and USA TODAY will be covering the games from the stadium parking lots.

MLB has mandated that all its teams have a "Terms and Conditions" agreement signed before issuing season credentials. This "Terms and Conditions" document in a nutshell says:

- MLB and the teams are given the right to order published images "at cost" and that they can be used in "any other media" and "without further compensation".

- "Transmitting or displaying" of images, video or audio in any media before the conclusion of the game is prohibited. This also means we can no longer post images to web sites before a game has ended.

For freelancers, there are several limitations and areas of concern. These include:

- Photographers may only cover games for the specific agency that is named on the credential. In other words, you cannot be shooting photos on say, a Baseball Weekly credential, and then sell the images to ESPN. Also wire service stringers can no longer sell their outtakes to other publications or agencies.

- Images can only be used in connection with "news coverage of the Games." Translation: NO commercial sales of images.

On Thursday there was confusion over a rumor that a settlement had been reached through the APSE (Associated Press Sports Editors). E-mail was widely circulated that said that "an agreement had been struck" and several points that the media objected to were dropped from the agreement.

It also said that an official announcement would be made via an AP Advisory.

As of midnight Thursday as Sports Shooter was being edited, no formal announcement had been made or an AP Advisory concerning the situation put out.

Thursday in Los Angeles the LA Times photo and sports staffs sent representatives to the Los Angeles Dodgers offices to pick up their season passes. They were under the assumption that an agreement had been reached.

But when they arrived, they were confronted with a document and were told it "had to be signed."

Vince Compagnone, the Times' sports picture editor said that the document stated that signing meant you agreed to the "attached terms and conditions." Except Compagnone pointed out "there was nothing attached to the document.'

When the Dodger p.r. personnel were asked about this, they finally produced the two-page, 15 point "Terms and Conditions of Use Of Credentials" agreement that had been in dispute for over two months.

Things were so confusing Thursday that an AP staffer mistakenly signed the agreement and was given season credentials. After realizing his mistake, he had the Dodgers tear up the signed agreement and he returned the credentials.

Compagnone said while he was waiting for the Dodgers to produce the agreement, he saw "several people sign" the credential use agreement "without reading it or asking what it meant."

So after all of these years why is MLB playing "hardball" on this credential agreement? Simple, two words: Money and Control.

It is probably no coincidence that MLB recently announced an exclusive deal with RealNetworks and that all of their teams' web sites have been corralled under one company.

These two separate deals combined with the terms of the credential agreement essentially means that MLB and its web sites have sole control over real-time updates, play-by-play, stats, scores, video, audio and images.

The $20 million deal with RealAudio gives the company exclusive web-cast rights to MLB games for the next three years. Baseball fans that had been listening to their favorite team's games for free via the Internet will have to pay a fee of $4.95 a month to RealAudio.

The baseball fan will only have access to baseball games through MLB's web sites unless they are watching games on television or listening on over-air radio.

Sports Illustrated's Steve Fine says about the disputed agreement, "I have a major problem with (several) paragraphs. Often we will pick up pictures from freelancers. They are taking this away.

"Also, if we decide to do a commemorative (edition of the magazine), they will prohibit us using our own pictures for a commercial venture like that."

In a story in Newsday, the paper's editor Anthony Marro said his newspaper's position is that using photos while a game is in progress constitutes "fair use." He said that Newsday also took exception to the clause regarding the league's use of photos it buys from news organizations, saying the possibility exists that Newsday's photos could end up being used by its competition.

MLB's 2001 season "courtesy cards" (a credential that grants access to all MLB stadiums) were being received Thursday. USA TODAY's Steve Mawyer told Sports Shooter that along with the passes was a letter saying that acceptance of the credentials would be viewed as accepting the terms and conditions of the original disputed agreement.

As newspapers and magazines plot their next move and how they will cover Opening Day without actually being inside the stadiums, SI's Fine said, "Baseball is in no position to deny the media access to their games. Didn't they learn anything during the last strike?"

And finally, AFP's Jeff Haynes brings up an interesting conflict. "Here is a question we are asking in Chicago," he said "Will the (Chicago) Tribune sign the Cubs agreement since they own the Cubs but not sign the White Sox?"

(Robert Hanashiro, editor and publisher of Sports Shooter has a day-job as a staff photographer for USA TODAY.)

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