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Media group loses appeal over real-time golf scores

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Media group loses appeal over real-time golf scores

  • A federal appellate court panel in Atlanta ruled that the Professional Golfers’ Association can prohibit the sale of its real-time golf scores, even though media groups say ruling restricts their ability to freely report and disseminate news.

April 6, 2004 — Stating that the case was not about copyright or freedom of the press, a federal appeals court last week held that the Professional Golfers’ Association can charge media companies a licencing fee to sell real-time golf scores to third parties.

The panel opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.), released March 31, upheld a 2002 ruling by Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger of U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla. Schlesinger, in granting summary judgment, held that the PGA had a valid business justification for requiring Morris Communications to pay a licencing fee to sell PGA-compiled golf scores.

Morris Communications is a Georgia-based company that has stakes in all facets of the media, including newspapers, advertising and radio. Some of its newspaper holdings include The (Pittsburgh) Morning Sun and the Savannah Morning News .

Last spring, several newspaper and media organizations — including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The New York Times Co. — filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Morris’s appeal. The media groups claimed that the “district court’s ruling that PGA Tour has a property right in the facts of a sporting event thus threatens the very ability of news organizations to report news.”

However, Judge Joel F. Dubina, writing for the panel, refused to address those concerns. “This case is not about copyright law, the Constitution, the First Amendment, or freedom of the press in news reporting,” he wrote. “This case is a straight-forward antitrust case involving a product and a defendant’s assertion of a valid business justification as its defense to anti-competitive actions, if any.”

The product in question is the Real-Time Scoring System, developed by the PGA to monitored play throughout an entire golf course. Volunteers follow each group of golfers on the course to record scores after each hole. The results are then collected by “hole reporters” at each green and electronically relayed to a remote production truck, where the information is transmitted to the PGA’s Web site,

The transmission occurs almost contemporaneously with the play on the course.

Scores are also compiled and transmitted to an on-site media center for reporters to use. In order to access the scores, however, reporters must acquire a press credential from the PGA and agree to the association’s On-Line Service Regulations.

Those regulations, according to court records, include delaying publication of scores until the information is either on the PGA’s official Web site or until 30 minutes have passed since the occurrence of the shot. In 2000, the PGA added that credentialed media organizations could not sell or syndicate compiled information obtained in the media center to non-credentialed third-party Internet publishers without buying a licence from the PGA.

PGA rules also prohibit the media from using cell phones and hand-held devices on courses because the equipment may disrupt play. Thus, the PGA controls the only means of compiling the scores.

The PGA’s attorney, Jeffrey A. Mishkin, told the court that the PGA only objected to Morris’s intentions to syndicate the information by selling it to outside sources.

“It is not the business of gathering and disseminating news,” he said. “It is the business of selling a commercially valuable product that we have developed and paid for, and we ought to be the ones to sell that.

“We eagerly, eagerly invite and want the press to do their function, their normal function of gathering and disseminating the news.”

(Morris Communications Corporation v. PGA Tour, Inc.; Media Counsel: George D. Gabel, Holland & Knight; Jacksonville, Fla.) MG

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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