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|| News Item: Posted 2006-03-02

In the Rough: The LPGA Creates Controversy With New Credential Use Agreement
By Darrell Miho

Photo by Darrell Miho

Photo by Darrell Miho

Kapolei, HI, February 24, 2006 - Photographers photograph Michelle Wie as she chips onto the green during the 2nd round of the Fields Open at Ko Olina Resort.
The headline of the Honolulu Star Bulletin said it all "LPGA policy fails to make the cut".

As most of you know by now, the Ladies Professional Golf Association quietly tried to introduce new restrictions on all media covering LPGA events. The restriction varied depending on whether you were a photographer, writer or audio/video person, but all agreed that they were beyond acceptable. For brevity of this story, I will address the photographer's agreement only.

Week 1, version 1
Prior to arriving at Turtle Bay for the SBS Open, I received a call from my editor stating that there was a problem with credential agreement and certain sections needed to be crossed out before I signed it and that I may not receive a credential if I did so.

Looking over the agreement, I was quite surprised at the extent to which the LPGA was looking to take control over any and all photographs taken at the event. While their position was that they were in line with other professional sports leagues, our (the media) position was that it crossed the line of fairness and, in the long run, would do more harm than good for the industry if we were to accept their terms.

The biggest sticking points in version 1 were:
Section 2(a), which stated in part that all photographs "must be used directly with a text article" AND must occur "no later than 48 (48) hours after the competition has been completed, unless otherwise authorized by the LPGA". So monthlies and some weeklies had to get additional permission granted and everyone had to get authorization for any future editorial usage.

Section 2(b), which stated in part that the LPGA shall have an "unlimited, perpetual, non-exclusive right to use (and to sub-license the use of) photographs taken at LPGA events for the non-commercial promotion of the LPGA and LPGA events, at no additional expense, in any form worldwide (whether now known or hereinafter devised)."

Additional stipulations were made in section 2(b) that stated the LPGA reserved the right to "purchase a commercial-use license for the LPGA, its suppliers, sponsors or licensees, of any photographs taken in connection with the credential at an amount equal to twenty percent (20%) less that the best financial terms of comparable photographs offered to or by third parties". Add to that the photographer and/or entity would need to provide the photo at no cost to the LPGA.

While this agreement was very far fetched, at the SBS Open, photographers were allowed to cross out any section they pleased and were still issued a credential. So as long as you crossed out sections 2(a) and (b), it was somewhat work as usual.

So the first week at Turtle Bay was sort of drama free for us. We were allowed to work while the attorneys from various media outlets and the LPGA's legal counsel worked out new wording for a revised agreement.

Week 2, version 2
Week two at Ko Olina was when all the fun began. On Monday, I ventured out to Ko Olina to scout locations for a portrait I had to shoot the following day of one of the LPGA players. While I was out there, I went to go pick up my credential for the Fields Open. As I did the first week, I crossed out section 2 and I was issued a credential. However, after a short discussion with Paul Rovnak, LPGA Media Relations Coordinator, I was informed that if I crossed anything out on the newly revised agreement, I could not be issued a credential, so I handed the credential back to Paul.

Paul was very cordial about the whole situation and asked me what paragraph was the most problematic. Section 2(a) had been revised and the 48-hour restriction was removed. However, I pointed out to him that section 2(b) was not rewritten and still unacceptable and was the bigger issue than the time restriction.

He immediately got on the phone and called the LPGA counsel and left a message and said he would get back to me after he discussed it with their attorney. So I left the media tent to go scout out locations for my portrait. While I was scouting, Paul called me back stating that the LPGA was not going to change their position at that time and that he would keep me posted if anything changed.

I returned to Ko Olina Tuesday afternoon to meet the player to take the portrait and spoke to Paul regarding credentials and there was no change in the LPGA's position. Okay, being that I was in Hawaii, I didn't think it was all that bad to be stuck in limbo in paradise.

By Wednesday, the local media was learning that they were being denied access, both print and video, because they refused to sign the agreement as it was written and soon the LPGA found themselves in the headlines rather than the players. Unlike the previous week, anyone crossing out any part of the agreement would not be issued a credential.

By Thursday, AP, the Honolulu Star Bulletin, the Honolulu Advertiser, US Presswire and other U.S. news media as well as the local news stations, were all boycotting the tournament. Other publications, including Sports Illustrated and Golf World, were aware of the new agreement and said they would not accept the LPGA's conditions and their attorneys were working on a resolution.

The LPGA got the message loud and clear after the first round when they held a post match interview with leader Lorena Ochoa and the interview room was empty except for LPGA staff members.

One unfortunate casualty of all of this is that the Asian media from Japan and Korea did not fully understand the document they were signing. Many speak a little English, but not enough to understand the legal wordings of such a complex agreement. If I, a native English speaker, had a difficult time making sense of all the legal mumbo jumbo, how does the LPGA expect the foreign media to understand it?

Speaking to one of the Japanese photographers, I asked him if he understood what he signed. In his broken English, he said no. It was explained to him after the fact, after the story ran in the local papers. They (the Japanese media) had a meeting, but felt they really couldn't do anything because they had already signed it.

Another Japanese photographer said that he trusted them (the LPGA) and just signed the agreement. They handed it to him and he signed it, not knowing what he was signing.

By Thursday afternoon, AP had worked out an agreement that was acceptable to both sides. Although a new written agreement was not presented to us, we were allowed, once again, to cross out section 2(b) and receive a credential. The LPGA was quite specific in it's enforcement - anyone that crossed out anything more than section 2(b) would not be issued a credential.

Friday morning, my early vacation was over before it really got started. I was back on the course shooting girls half my age making many millions more than I do. All was back to some semblance of normalcy, if there is such a thing in the photo world.

The media boycott was fairly big news on the Islands. It wasn't just journalists talking about it. While walking on the cart path on the way to the second hole with my long lens on my shoulder, a 70-year-old lady asked me in passing, "Does the LPGA own your pictures?" I simply replied with a smile, "Nope" and continued walking to the next hole. An interesting aberration from the normal, "Is that thing heavy?" question. It was nice knowing that the LPGA didn't have any rights to my pictures (not that they would want any).

It was nice knowing that when push came to shove, the media, both print and broadcast, stood strong together and fought for what was fair and just. The symbiotic relationship between the media and the LPGA seems to be back in balance and we can now once again focus our attention on the athletes and not each other, cause we all know that the athletes look better in pictures than we do.

(Darrell Miho is a Southern California - based freelance photographer. He is an occasional contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. His work can be viewed at:

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