PtG Article 23.05.2008

Fight over rights to cover sports events moved into EU Parliament

Principles of independent journalism won in the latest skirmish between sports federations and media organisations about the rights to cover sport events. The battle took place in the European Parliament where members voted on amendments to a report on the European Commission’s White Paper on Sport which could have introduced new intellectual property rights to sport events.

Over the past few years, media organisations have fought with organisers of sports events such as FIFA and the International Rugby Board about the terms on which the media could cover their events.

In general, sports federations want to have greater control over all aspects of how the events are communicated to the public and to protect their ability to profit from selling media rights. Media organisations on the other hand argue that the public continues to have a right to independent coverage of sport events that is not managed by sports federations, and have therefore protested vigorously against any attempts by events organisers to limit how they can report the event.

From events into the political realm

Earlier this month, the battle moved away from the frontline of actual sport events and into the political realm of the European Parliament where MEPs were about to vote on their comments to the European Commissions White Paper on Sport.

Sports federations had been lobbying MEPs and on the table were amendments that if adopted could have established new intellectual property rights specific to sports events that could potentially give sports federations the right to charge for things like photos, match reports and “ball-by-ball” online coverage.

It is the first time that it has been attempted to give sporting events specific property rights, and the proposal caused alarm with organisations such as the European Federation of Journalists, the European Publishers’ Association, European Publishers Council and the News Media Coalition.

“It is obvious that sports governing bodies have been lobbying MEPs for newly invented rights including the protection of the event as a whole, information and spin-offs arising from the event, none of which exists under the existing Intellectual Property Right regimes. This is unjustified protectionism,” the chairman of the European Publishers Council, Francisco Pinto Balsemao, said in a press release before the meeting of the European Parliament.

MEPs rejected intellectual property rights

In the event, members of the European Parliament rejected the amendments that would have acknowledged intellectual property rights for sports events and even called on European governments to ensure that major events such as the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup are made available to the population on free-to-air television, the newsletter EUobserver reports.

Associations for European newspaper publishers and journalists called the vote in the European Parliament a great victory for journalism.

“It is in the public interest to make sure that journalists report freely on sports events. Introducing a new intellectual property right for sport events organisers would have been a great step backwards for press freedom,” Arne König, chair of the European Federation of Journalists, said in a press release.