After a year-long battle, Illinois newspapers can again freely photograph state high school championship events after striking a deal with the state’s high school association, which owns rights to those events. In 2007, photographers were shut out from covering the state’s championship football games if they would not agree to a policy prohibiting their newspapers from selling reprints of any photos taken at the events.
The Illinois Press Association sued the Illinois High School Association over its new policy — contending these are events of great public interest involving public school students whose programs are funded by taxpayer dollars — and settled the case April 7. The matter drew attention throughout the state as the Illinois legislature passed a bill that would prohibit such policies, and also nationally as other states’ high school associations looked to Illinois when considering their own secondary-use limitations.
Access to public school events — whether a swim meet in the school gym or the state championship basketball game at Chicago’s United Center — should be granted to all members of the public. IHSA had argued that as a private entity, separate from the state, it should be allowed to regulate entry to its events however it likes. But it disregards that the involvement of primarily public school participants renders its events public, no matter where it gets its funding.
This agreement sends a good message to the other states considering similar measures or those already attempting to implement them: public high school events are public events, period.