Photographer Ban Backfires on English Soccer Club

A ban on photographers covering home games of England's Southampton Football Club hit a snag after the Digital South photo agency pulled out of the deal. The club's original plan was to deny photographers press credentials for the new season, insisting that all news outlets negotiate for images from home games with Digital South.

But Digital South owner Robin Jones told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian over the weekend that he declined the deal. "I disagreed with their stance on a total ban of photographers from any media source," Jones said in a statement. "I voiced this opinion to the club and genuinely thought that the ban would not take place. It became clear to me on Thursday that this ban was indeed happening and so I rang the club to inform them of my decision to decline their offer.

To derail Southampton's strategy, London's The Sun ran the following headline Monday after Sunday's Southampton match against Plymouth: "Opposition 0 Plymouth 1." And Plymouth's local newspaper, The Herald, commissioned city historian Chris Robinson to draw cartoon-like illustrations of the game in lieu of publishing actual photographs. "It's outrageous that a football club is blocking photographers from covering something which is of much interest and importance to many people," said Bill Martin, The Herald's editor.

A similar situation occurred three years ago in the United States, when the Illinois High School Association required photographers to sign an agreement restricting the use of pictures they took. The controversy stemmed from an arrangement the IHSA had with Visual Image Photography Inc. that granted the firm exclusive rights to the commercial use of photos taken at IHSA-sponsored events. In exchange, VIP provided hundreds of thousands of photos to the IHSA for free. Association officials claimed newspapers posting photo galleries - often containing hundreds of images from tournament play - and then selling copies to parents and other fans undermined the value of the association's contract with VIP. Therefore, the IHSA denied media access to photographers who refused to waive their rights to secondary use of the photos, defined by the association as anything beyond a traditional print newspaper story. The matter was eventually resolved, but the damage had been done: The fiasco landed at Number 3 on the "Top 10 Most Controversial" issues of the decade at the Northern Illinois Sports Beat website.

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