National Football League Tackles Video News Clips of the NFL : Is it a Safety?

Is this the failed IP “Hail Flutie” of the NFL with respect to property, privacy and publicity, intellectual property and employment relationships, and freedom of speech and freedom of the press in sports?*

Greed is a dangerous thing.

The National Football League has thrown a strong and perhaps penalty-suspect NFL tackle at the broadcasting of football team video news clips prepared by the news media. Via the Trademark Blog, we read inter alia in Under NFL Rule, Media Web Sites Are Given Just 45 Seconds to Score by Paul Farhi at the Washington Post:

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….

The new policy covers everything shot by news organizations within team facilities. In addition to the 45-second-per-day limit, news organizations must also provide a link to and a team’s Web site for any team-related footage shown on those Web sites. The league also prohibits news outlets from selling advertising tied to video gathered at a team’s facilities.”

The new NFL rule prompted a satirical video by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (hat tip to Patriots Planet) … with the following result as reported by AOL Sports

On Friday, the front page of the Houston Chronicle promoted a blog video by NFL columnist John McClain criticizing the new rules on non-NFL sources using off-season video. The video made fun of the 45 second time limit restriction using mini-interviews with different members of the Texans organization, including Texans owner Bob McNair. By the afternoon, the post and the video were off the Chronicle website, though you can still find the original if you have the original links. The above UnCut Video is a copy of it that made it out onto the internets.

The link to that satirical blog video is found at AOL’s Uncut Video showing how interviews with players, coaches and team owners will potentially be cut at mid-sentence by a stopwatch-holding assistant in order not to go over the NFL-imposed time limit.

This looks like an end-run touchdown at the wrong end of the field to us, i.e. a safety.
News Media 2 NFL 0. We definitely expect the rules to be changed.

Read the rules at the Tacoma News Tribune

Find more commentary at:
AOL Sports
ars technica
(Eric Bangeman discusses other cases and the future of sports-related content)
Lost Remote
Foul Balls
Wendy Seltzer

* In our view, the NFL rules touch upon a number of rights:

Copyrights: Videos made by news media are of course their copyright, but a taped interview for example can involve copyrights of both the interviewer and interviewee (see e.g. Copyright FAQ 1.20 at Author Services at Blackwell Publishing Online or Angelina Jolie).

Trademarks: Videos reproduce protected trademarks of the NFL or NFL teams (names, logos, symbols, helmet and uniform designs, etc.) What can be shown by the press and what not without the NFL’s permission?

Privacy and Publicity: When is a release required to publish videos or photographs of individuals or teams? whether in uniform or out?

Property rights and employment relationships arising from contracts: NFL teams can refuse noncompliant media access to team property as well as to officials, owners, coaches and/or players on that property. What about elsewhere? And what about the doctrines of compulsory licensing and essential access? Can comparable doctrines be applied to normal property law in this case? That last issue is more complicated than it looks. What if the NFL refused stadium access to news media who voted Republican? or who failed to pay $50000 a year to the NFL? Property rights would then come into conflict with other rights.

Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press: What can be prohibited without violating the US Constitution? If access is given to NFL facilities, can the NFL limit the time to be devoted by news media to a given subject matter later as a condition of access? What if the President of the United States limited press conferences to reporters who agreed to limit their videos about those conferences to 45 seconds?

Does the NFL rule violate public policy and is it therefore legally unconscionable?

Besides, we find college football to be much more interesting anyway.