Monday, April 07, 2008

Free Speech in Illinois?

A dispute between the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and local media photographers has turned into the latest battle over freedom of speech.

The IHSA instituted new rules this year that banned media outlets from reselling the photos they took at IHSA events. A couple of newspapers took the IHSA to court and while that case winds its way through the system, the Illinois legislature has weighed in. The Illinois state senate has sponsored a bill that would overrule the IHSA and allow outlets to resell the photos. The bill is currently under consideration by the Illinois House.

Of course, all of this has less to do with free speech than it does with money. The IHSA has a contract with a company to sell the photos and doesn't want any competition. What's not as clear is the IHSA's stance on fans bringing their own cameras to events and taking pictures. Although it's unlikely, any one of the fans who capture images at an event (and there as many, as witnessed by the picture above), could in turn sell that image for profit. If the IHSA restricts professional photographers doesn't it have to restrict everyone?
As a practical matter the IHSA's stance is unbelievably short-sighted and outdated. In this digital age you can no more restrict the redistribution of images than you can _________ (fill in your own improbable metaphor here). Someone, somewhere has a video or a picture and they have no reluctance about sharing it, whether there are rules or not (Hey, ISHA ... have you heard of YouTube?).
Yes, this is certainly a free speech issue. But even more than that it's a great example of an organization trying to impose 20th century rules on 21st century technology.


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