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The New SEC Media (and Ticket) Policy: First Analysis

Now that the new policy is readily available for download (h/t Richard Pittman), I've had a chance to read through the terms.  The new policy is divided into two parts - terms for media credentials and terms for event tickets / non-media credentials.  Because the two sections are pretty stand-alone, I'll walk through them individually.  It's a bit lengthy, but I really couldn't pare this down any further and cover the topic adequately.

Media Policy

Point (1) is the most important point, and probably the biggest change in media policy.  To me, point (4) is the next most interesting.  But keep in mind, all the media points are terms of a contract; it's a this-for-that arrangement where the media guy gets access in exchange for limitations on use of material.  This only applies to people with media credentials.  There is a separate agreement for ticket holders.

  1. Media Creds can only be issued to full-time salaried employees of accredited media institutions.  This will be the biggest sticking point for the media, and it's the first sentence in the terms.  The "full-time" condition is a huge deal for two reasons: it shuts down all possibility of allowing bloggers to be a part of the media (with the exception of people like Spencer Hall, who is considered media via Sporting News); it also shuts out a lot of the smaller media outlets - especially print media from small markets.  I think it's more important to focus on that latter point, and here's why.  As a blogger, I would like a chance to get more involved with the sports programs so I can bring better content to RTT.  However, it's not my livelihood.  At many of the smaller markets, the sports journalist is a part-time guy (or otherwise not "salaried") and removing his beat may endanger his job.  That may be a stretch (and I'll readily admit I'm not familiar with small market media), but that's a far bigger consequence for them than anything I have to worry about.
  2. No audio or video may be transmitted of the event within 72 hours of the even, except for television newscasts.  And those clips must be shorter than 3 minutes.  The 72-hour window will give the game-carrier (ESPN, ABC, or the SEC Digital Network in most cases) exclusivity during the 'hot' time.  This is a concession to the big boys who are paying money so they can be the only ones broadcasting things while everybody's interested.
  3. Highlights cannot be placed online or transmitted through any "new media" medium (e.g. cell phones, PDAs, etc.).  For the moment, remember that this is talking about media personnel; we'll get to ticketed people in a bit.  There is an interesting ambiguity here in that there is no time limit explicitly connected with this, yet it's in the same paragraph as the preceding point.  So, can GVX post highlights after the 72-hour window?  Probably not.  Even more interesting is this scenario:  suppose ESPN is covering a Vols game.  They'll naturally be on hand to record post game interviews, which are a part of the "Event".  Is GVX now prohibited from posting their audio of the interview on their website?  Even after 72 hours?  There is room for interpretation here, and the SEC will have to figure it out.
  4. No "real time" updates of any form.  This will presumably include Twitter in the eyes of the SEC.  Interesting note:  "... the determination of whether a blog is a real-time description or transmission shall be made by the SEC in its sole discretion."  In its most draconian form, this could be read to say that live game threads are taboo.  However, this is a restriction placed on the "Bearer" of a media credential.  We don't have media credentials and are therefore not subject to the terms of this contract.  I'm very interested to find out their intent on this point.
  5. Media Credentialed personnel may take pictures to use in their stories.  Still photographs don't interfere with video coverage, however,
  6. Media cannot sell the pictures they take.  This is really interesting for image services like Getty, who often buy pictures from local media rather than hire somebody to cover each and every event in the country.  Add to it that only full-time salaried employees can get media creds in the first place, and all of a sudden outlets like Getty won't have a source for photos.
  7. Radio stations cannot use live commentary in game updates without prior permission.  This really isn't a big deal, but while a game is in progress, the little sound-bite updates can only be given if the SEC allows.

Ticket Holders and Non-Media Credentials

This will hit closer to home for most.  Again, keep in mind it's a contract, and these are the restrictions that the SEC demands in exchange for allowing you to 'license' a seat for the event.  That, and paying for the ticket, of course.

  1. No use of photos, video, audio, etc. that is copyrighted.  I emphasize the 'copyrighted' bit because there's more to follow.  But basically, any transmission of information that belongs to somebody else can't be used by a ticket holder.  Honestly, that's pretty standard stuff, so pay more attention to the next point, which I will quote directly because it's the most important one to know.
  2. "No Bearer may produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the Event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, audio, reproduction, or other information concerning the Event, other than in speech that cannot be restricted under the First Amendment, in any form."  You read that right:  no picture-taking.  No cell pics, no cell videos.  No Twittering.  No calling your best friend and explaining what just happened.  That's the letter of the law in this term of the contract (always remember; this is a contract).  How far will the SEC pursue this?  I have no idea, but the language is in place to give them as much freedom as they want.  However, its interpretation is made shaky by this term later on (and I again quote):
  3. "Bearer may not bring alcoholic beverages, bottles, cans or containers, laser pointers, irritants (e.g. artificial noisemakers), video cameras, strobe-lights, or any type of weapon (or anything which the SEC or its member institution may deem a weapon) onto the premises of the Event.  Note that cameras are not excluded.  So while there is language prohibiting photography, there is not language prohibiting cameras.  Also, I would like to point out that the Mississippi State cowbells are technically banned under this policy (even though I think it's a cool tradition).  So if the SEC lets MSU fans use cowbells, they don't really have any room to prohibit the carrying of cameras, which aren't included in the policy.  Oh, and smoking may be banned at events, too.  But you knew that.  (Side note:  in a conversation we had offline, Joel suggested that could be an oversight, so we'll see how it goes.)

There are more terms in both sections, but those are the specifics that I think you'll find most interesting.  The changes in the policy seem to be twofold.  First, the changes in media policy give SEC partners like the SEC Digital Network and ESPN a very high degree of exclusivity.  Those outlets are forking cash over to the SEC, and the SEC is figuratively giving them a media monopoly on the event.  Those being squeezed out are anybody else who would cover the event in a media fashion, which initially screams "bloggers" but will ultimately hurt small market media far more than it would ever hurt a blog.  We here at RTT are bulletproof from this because we don't make a living off of our blog.  (And if we did, we'd be homeless.)  Not all are so lucky.

The second policy effect is to modernize the restriction language for newer technology.  The old policy wasn't built to handle things like cell phone videos and Twitter because nobody could accurately foresee them.  Now, at least there's some leverage in place if the SEC really wanted to do something about it.  But for all the strictness of the language, it's going to be very difficult for the SEC to maintain this policy as written.  For one, they won't have the resources to deal with the tens of thousands of people who, at every football game, take pictures.  For two, there are technicalities in copyright law that can limit these restrictions.  But that's another topic.

And always remember: if you don't sign a contract (in this case, buy a ticket), you aren't beholden to the terms of the contract.  Standard laws apply, natch, but this policy can in no way threaten our live game threads, even with the blog-specific language.  If we don't have media credentials to a game, we're not liable to these terms.  (And even if we did, this cannot prevent us from writing about the game based on information we get outside of the venue, such as from newspaper articles.)

BONUS, if you're still with us.

I alluded to an offline conversation between Joel and me earlier.  He made some very fantastic points that I think should be shared, so here they are.

Regarding the restrictions in general:

Premise No. 1: everyone is subject to the laws regarding trademark, copyright, etc. But the thing that's bizarre about the credential quid pro quo is that I think it can be interpreted to be imposing restrictions on the credentialed media above and beyond what they can do under just the law. If true, they are giving up some legal rights for their access, and if that's the case, it dis-incentivizes credentialing. Take yesterday [Saturday], for instance, @wesrucker is credentialed, so he has to stop tweeting the play by play. Others at practice have nothing to lose, so they tweet away and gain an advantage in the new media world. The ticket restrictions attempt to impose this as well, but it will be completely unenforceable, and there's no way it can extend to television viewers as there is no privity of contract. The viewers haven't agreed to anything. They're still subject to the law, but nothing above that.

Regarding the restrictions on Ticket holders (especially point (2) above):

On that most-overbroad provision relating to game-goers: I have this image of everyone in the stands with duct tape over their mouths b/c they can't talk about what they're watching even to each other. It's ludicrous. They've essentially said, "We don't know exactly what the First Amendment will prohibit us from prohibiting, but we're taking as much as it does." It essentially puts the burden of knowing on the user, and the chilling effect could be extraordinary.

Regarding the punishments if they catch somebody breaking these terms:

The remedy: Remedial provisions usually start with the general and then use the most extreme to sort of cap the intent, and in a couple of places, it says that a violation will result in whatever they can do legally "up to and including revocation of the [credential/ticket/license, etc.]" When contractual disputes end up in court, the general rule is that any ambiguity will be resolved against against the drafter and in favor of the other party. So I'm guessing that the only thing you really stand to lose for violating these new rules (forgetting for the moment violations of law) is to lose your credential or your ticket. That, I think, like the credentialing mentioned above, has the effect of discouraging people like us from buying tickets. Reading the thing as broadly as they have drafted it, it appears to me that they're trying to prohibit folks who went to the game from telling others about it, as ludicrous as that sounds. So, technically, the choice is go to the game and don't write about it or watch on TV and live-blog and do post-game recaps and post-game awards and drive charts and on and on and on. To the extent that they attempt to impose more restrictions on gaining access or going to games than on not doing those things, they're essentially telling you to stay home because that's a better deal.

(emphasis mine, except for the italics, which are Joel's)