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|| News Item: Posted 2005-11-30

In The Eye of the Storm
Compromise made in Syracuse credential controversy

By Kirk Irwin

Photo by Kirk Irwin / The Daily Orange

Photo by Kirk Irwin / The Daily Orange

Syracuse football players get ready prior to playing the University of Buffalo at the Carrier Dome on September 10, 2005.
What started as a post on the message boards, asking for advice, quickly morphed into a much larger issue than I had ever imagined.

It started with a call from the sports editor at the Daily Orange, telling me that the sports information director at Syracuse University had said that my images on my member page needed to come down and failure to comply would lead to loss of the paper's photo button (the credential to shoot in the Carrier Dome). Upon hearing the initial request, I spoke with my editor, in an attempt to explain what Sports Shooter is and how it serves photographers.

My hopes were that he would then speak with the SID, and the situation would end there. Despite the full support of my editor, I was told that the images needed to come down. In an act of good faith, I removed my images of SU athletes after it was made clear that failure to comply would cost the paper our credential.

Soon after pulling the images and after speaking with my professor and one of my photo editors at the Post-Standard, all of whom supported me, I posted a question to the Sports Shooter community, asking if this had happened to anyone else, and the best way to approach and resolve the situation.

This simple post is where the issue began to gain momentum. The post caught the attention of the NPPA and many other photographers around the country all asking what was happening and offering either advice or help.

Soon after the Post-Standard published a story ( on what was happening. After that story ran, Photo District News and News Photographer magazine ran stories, explaining what was happening, the issues at hand, my thoughts and reactions to this issue, and how I would like to see it resolved.
I believe the commotion created by my initial post helped to bring about a meeting among my professors, the SID, and me. Our meeting focused on a few issues that the SID had with an online site such as Sports Shooter. The main issue was whether the images were being used for commercial gain, and would the use of these images hurt players' eligibility.

The issue of whether a portfolio displayed on an online site, such as Sports Shooter, falls under commercial use or editorial use was debated and discussed by both sides for the majority of the meeting. The meeting ended with Sue Edson, director of athletic communications, deciding to ask the NCAA for their opinion.

Photo by Kirk Irwin / The Daily Orange

Photo by Kirk Irwin / The Daily Orange

Syracuse free safety Anthony Smith (20) leaps for an interception during the first half of Syracuse's loss to the University of South Florida at the Carrier Dome
The NCAA looked at the issue and determined that Sports Shooter is indeed an editorial site and the posting of images of collegiate athletes does not constitute commercial use. Ms. Edson's final request was that images of SU athletes be marked with copyright, identifying the photographer and the credentialed media outlet (i.e.__Kirk Irwin, for the Daily Orange).

The NCAA's final decision came right before Thanksgiving. While the rest of the people backing me and I were ready to continue fighting this issue, it was good to have the matter quickly resolved. Having the NCAA declaring that the use of these images was editorial helped to bring this to a speedy conclusion, and allowed me to get back to focusing on my projects for school.

Being at the middle of this and fielding interviews, was a new and unusual experience for me. I spent time on the phone answering the same questions and giving my side of the story, while being careful about what I said. It was a hectic couple of weeks.

Working on my projects for school helped me relax and keep a level head during all of this. Being a rather reserved person, I am much more comfortable behind the lens, shooting and documenting what is happening in my community.

While this put me in an unusual and somewhat stressful position, I feel that it has been very rewarding and a great learning experience--rewarding in the sense that I was able, with an incredible amount of support and backing, to help bring some change to the athletic department's view on using photos in online portfolio sites, such as Sports Shooter and a learning experience in the sense that I experienced the negotiating process as I had never seen it before, and learned the importance of speaking carefully and with tact, for the purpose of accomplishing my objective.

This incident has helped to show me that being a photographer is much more than simply making the best images you can, that it's also about being part of a community, and sometimes standing up for not only your individual rights, but those of the community at large. My goal was not to bring attention to myself, but for me, and all others who shoot SU athletics, to be able to continue to post images on Sports Shooter. With that in mind, I feel that this was successful.

I came to Syracuse to further study photography and improve as a photographer. This was an educational experience, even though it occurred outside of the classroom, that has taught me a lot. I've learned that with issues such as these, it is best to work toward change, to not sit back and let others dictate how you can use your photos, when no contracts have been signed.

While I was at the center of this issue, this could not have happened without the support from my professors, editors, the NPPA and the whole photographic community. It was their backing that helped move everything along and create an acceptable resolution. Thank you to everyone who helped out with this issue.

(Kirk Irwin is studying photography at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. )

Related Links:
Irwin's member page
NPPA: NCAA Decides Portfolio Shots On
NPPA: Syracuse University's Credential Threat Raises

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