Exclusive Rights: The Wrong Goal for NFL

The NFL just doesn't know when to stop. The Washington Post reports on a new NFL policy limiting journalists' use of video online:

In a move designed to protect the Internet operations of its 32 teams, the pro football league has told news organizations that it will no longer permit them to carry unlimited online video clips of players, coaches or other officials, including video that the news organizations gather themselves on a team's premises. News organizations can post no more than 45 seconds per day of video shot at a team's facilities, including news conferences, interviews and practice-field reports.

Now this policy isn't copyright-based -- the NFL doesn't have copyright in the un-fixed statements of its players and coaches -- but good old real property law. The NFL teams own their facilities, and with them have the right to exclude people physically, as trespassers. So the NFL is telling sportswriters, who depend on physical access to gather the background for their stories, they'll be barred at the gates if they use more than 45 seconds of video online.

Houston Chronicle columnists John McClain and Anna-Megan Raley show the absurdity of this policy by trying to complete interviews in 45 seconds, stopwatch in hand. Even stopping at 45 seconds, they apparently violate the policy if the video is not removed after 24 hours and doesn't link to nfl.com!

While the football league may be within its legal rights on this one, its policy still reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium. The league depends on independent journalists to do the research that keeps people following the sport between games, and journalists have turned to the Internet to dig deeper than they could in print or time-constrained TV. Readers go to sportwriters' websites and blogs precisely for perspectives they don't get from the official NFL.com website. Limiting the richness of media available on these sites is more likely to alienate fans and journalists than to drive traffic to NFL.com. Just look where the Olympics is.

Sometimes rights to exclude are best left un-exercised. By contrast, the National Hockey League has taken a better course, striking deals with YouTube, Sling Media, and Joost to permit people to see hockey when and where they want. Perhaps it's time for the Houston Chronicle team to battle global warming and pick a new sport!

Thanks Scott!


Subject Area: