Internet Broadcast of High School Sporting Events

September 11, 2011

Case: WIAA. v. GANNETT CO., Docket Number 10-2627 (7th Cir. 8-24-2011) What happened: As the governing body for middle and high school athletic programs in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA or Association) sponsors statewide post-season tournaments. In 2005, WIAA contracted with American-HiFi, a video production company, to stream its tournament events online. Under this contract, American-HiFi has an exclusive right to stream nearly all WIAA tournament games. Gannett argued that the First Amendment forbids WIAA, as a government agency, from granting exclusivity with respect to the right to stream video of its athletic contest performances. Decision: Governmental entities can grant exclusivity in performances. There is no First Amendment problem in WARF doing what it did. Interesting quote: Among other reasons for denying the First Amendment claim here, the Court noted the devastating impact that claim's like Gannett's claim here could have on the normal business of other governmental entities:

[T]he Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)patents innovations made by the scientific community at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The University relies on a private party, WARF, to solicit and obtain third-party licensing fees. The revenue from these agreements is substantial: WARF currently pays an average of $45 million annually to the University and has returned $1.07 billion to the school since 1928. See generally Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, (last visited Aug. 19, 2011). Gannett’s claim here would cast a shadow over the commercial licenses that WARF sells, by implying that the First Amendment requires it to dedicate its inventions to the public. No case has ever come close to holding this.