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|| News Item: Posted 2001-04-30

Batter Up!
MLB Credential Dispute "Resolved?"

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

The announcement by the Associated Press Sports Editors organization on April 16 proclaimed the dispute between the media and Major League Baseball was "resolved" but there are still plenty of questions being asked and many publications have not signed the credential use agreement.

An informal poll by Sports Shooter has revealed that there many publications who have yet to sign the MLB's credential use agreement and many of those who have, are still scratching their heads wondering what it was they put their John Hancocks on.

As of Friday papers in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Detroit and Wisconsin have not signed the agreement. However all of the major wires services, AP, AFP and Reuters as well as Allsport, USA has signed.

Many major publications like Sports Illustrated, USA TODAY, the New York Times, Denver Post, Dallas Morning News, Arizona Republic, Seattle Times and the Post Intelligencer have signed the agreement.

The Association of Media Photographers (ASMP), which represents many freelance photographers, has recommended their members not sign the agreement.

While expressing reservations about the revised agreement, one East Coast director of photography commented, "(We signed) because we owe it to our readers to have coverage of baseball in the paper."

The media objected to several clauses written in the agreement including:
- Limiting the number of images that could be transmitted during the course of a game
- The ability for Internet sites to post images and game information before the conclusion of a game
- MLB's ability to use images taken by the media for "news coverage purposes"
- secondary and commercial reuse.

In a statement released in a "media advisory" carried by the AP, Robert DuPuy, Major League Baseball's Chief Legal Officer said: "We believe that the current language satisfies the concerns of all parties. Major League Baseball values the coverage it receives from the various news organizations and hopes that this dispute can now be put behind us."

The advisory also said that the APSE has recommended that all of its members sign the current MLB credential use agreement.

The agreement was rewritten at least twice, with some language toned down. But a clause that dealt strictly with images went from 43 words in the original agreement to 273 in the final version.

"I think it is very important for any contract to always say what it means," said Rick Rickman, a freelance photographer, "It's vital to a spirit of mutual understanding to not leave anything in limbo in the minds of all parties who sign the agreement."

Rich Clarkson, chair of the NPPA's sports committee said after conversations with MLB he "found Pat (Courtney) and Rich Levin at MLB to be very cooperative and willing to resolve this."

The original MLB credential use agreement was sent to many newspapers two months before opening day. But there have been many inconsistencies in requiring signing the agreement before using season passes. Some newspapers, most notably in the Bay Area, newspapers were mailed their season passes without the document enclosed and were not required to sign anything when they showed up to cover the San Francisco Giants.

"They (receiving team season passes) did not require a signature," said the San Francisco Examiner's Dino Vournas, "They sent them to us after we requested (season) writers and photogs credentials."

One West Coast newspaper that did receive the agreement crossed off the clauses they objected to and sent it to MLB. The marked up document was rejected and the paper decided to cover opening day using a "day pass."

As photo editors and lawyers went back and forth with MLB in the days leading up to April 2, many publications discussed staging a boycott of opening day to make a statement to MLB over its displeasure of the credential use agreement

But just before the first pitches were thrown in baseball stadium across the country the Associated Press decided to staff all games as they normally would for opening day.

"It does not matter if the largest papers in the nation boycott MLB games if the AP covers them," said one disgruntled DOP. "Most papers get the AP photos anyway (and would run them)."

"The AP is using 'Day Passes' which have the old contract language on the back," another photo editor noted to his staff, "(I) don't know how that makes anything better."

There was a mini boycott at Pac Bell Park on opening day, where three organizations decided they could not abide by the language on the backs of their day passes.

"When I read the back of my "day pass" at the Giants game today," said Allsport's Jed Jacobsohn, "It had all the same clauses that are so objectionable. After finding out that both Reuters and AFP were not covering I turned my pass back in."

However across the country at Yankee Stadium photographers stopped organizing a walkout when AP staffers were told not to leave the game.

A lot of confusion aided in the collapse of a coverage boycott. Some newspaper attorneys advised that without a signature on the agreement, it is not binding, despite language on the backs of the passes that indicate that use signifies the user abide by the MLB terms and conditions. Other opinions were the opposite, with papers not accepting season or day passes because they contained the disputed terms.

"The back of the pass says that by using this pass, you agree to abide by the conditions set forth," said Vournas, "The (Oakland) A's pass said that to get a copy of the conditions, you have to write the club or MLB. The legal opinion gathered by our editors suggests that without a written and signed agreement, they couldn't make their new conditions stick."

After the start of the regular season, it was discovered that the AP had an agreement with MLB to be an exclusive content provider for MLB's Internet sites.

(This season Major League Baseball has taken over management of all of the individual team sites.)

"I am especially troubled by the AP photos that are appearing on most MLB web sites," said Alan Greth, executive picture editor of the Contra Costa Times, "That deal raises questions in my opinion."

"It sure looks like a conflict of interest," a Southern California sports photographer said, "When you have a business arrangement with an organization you cover as much as the wires do sports it just looks bad."

Another Bay Area picture editor said of the AP's deal with MLB: "Gee, I wonder why AP would not boycott shooting MLB games? It appears that MLB is in fact a revenue stream for the AP. That's right, the AP appears to be selling pictures directly to an entity it covers. This appears like a conflict of interest at the least, and a complete ethical boondoggle at best."

One issue was cleared up and under the terms of the new agreement secondary editorial reuse now approved. Language in the original agreement was thought to restrict reuse of images to only the publications they were originally made for.

Commercial sales of MLB images however are still forbidden under the agreement.

"I see no problem with the league's desire to control advertising of their image," Rickman said, "It's a natural thing for any organization to want to control their image. It is however important to know that photographers who rely heavily on secondary sales can continue to do that. I feel it's also in the best interest of the league considering their waning numbers in popularity."

Several organizations have taken the approach that many of the restrictions are unenforceable. "Let them sue me," a DOP said out of frustration when asked if signing the agreement was damaging in the long run.

Maybe the APSE's declaration was not so much the situation was resolved as the media grew tired of hassles and MLB won a war of attrition. "Someday we might have a giant feud with Major League Baseball," a sports editor told his staff. "For that to happen, the Tigers probably would have to starting winning"

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