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Judge rules in favor of IHSA in webcast rights hearing

A Sangamon County judge ruled Tuesday that the Illinois High School Association has the right to claim “exclusive rights” and charge fees to media outlets that webcast postseason games.

The hearing was requested by the Illinois Press Association after the IHSA claimed it had those “exclusive rights” for last week’s quarterfinal high school football games. The IPA claimed that the IHSA could not do that, based upon a 2008 settlement reached between the two groups.

But Circuit Judge Patrick Kelley ruled that the settlement did not extend to the webcast of full games. The ruling does not impact the coverage of games through newsprint, photos, internet photo galleries or video highlights.

The “exclusive rights” claim prevented the Northwest Herald’s high school sports website, McHenryCountySports.com, from providing a webcast of Saturday’s Montini at Marian Central Class 5A quarterfinal game.

The IHSA has claimed the “exclusive rights” to four of this weekend’s state semifinal football games and all eight state final games Nov. 23 and 24.

Those do not include Cary-Grove’s 4 p.m. Saturday Class 6A state semifinal game at Lake Forest. McHenryCountySports.com is hoping to gain permission to webcast that contest.

“This is the ruling we expected,” IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman was quoted as saying in a press release. “Broadcast rights fees have existed as a part of the association’s policies across all mediums for nearly 30 years and as new broadcast technology has evolved, such as streaming, it has naturally fallen under that umbrella. Further, the IPA settlement centered around photographs and had no carryover into broadcasting of any kind.”

“The [Northwest Herald] had already webcast, in its entirety, a game,” IPA lawyer Don Craven said. “That’s a newspaper product just like the video is a newspaper product. The judge disagreed.”

When the settlement was reached in 2008, the IPA agreed to table several pieces of legislation regarding the IHSA and a limitation of its rights surrounding ownership of high school athletics.

Asked if those could be re-introduced now, Craven said that any further changes are “going to have to be in the General Assembly and not the courts.”

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