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Gannett going back for seconds with appeal

07/12/2010, 12:41am CDT
By Nicholas Kartos

On June 3rd, with a predictable lack of media coverage, the WIAA won their summary judgment over Gannett Corporation.  What this meant was simply that the WIAA can control the media rights of their state tournaments and that they may grant a third party exclusive rights over parts of this media.

It was not only a victory, but after reading the 51 page decision of Judge William M. Conley, it was apparent that it was an overwhelming victory for the WIAA.  I believe in legal terms, they put a clownsuit on Gannett.

This of course was after we were all stuck with an onslaught of anti-WIAA articles and editorials from papers statewide, especially Gannett owned papers.  Some were about the case, some were about the assembly bill (that died in committee) and others were about any topic they could possibly write about to complain about the WIAA.   I would assume this unfair onslaught in the media along with the one-sided judgment made it a sweet victory up at Vern Holmes Drive. 

At the time, I was going to post a couple of excerpts from the article.  At least in our office, we thought the WIAA was in the right all along and were kind of getting annoyed with all the stuff being written.  However, we decided to just to stay down, and be happy that it was over with.  We will be able to go back to enjoying our favorite writers and local coverage that we have all come to love and everyone can move on. 

One problem.  Gannett has decided they don t want to move on. 

Gannett has appealed the ruling last Wednesday, and I really have to question their motives.  In theory, it has to be one of the two following things:

1)    They truly feel the judge was wrong and that another judge looking at the same evidence and the summary judgment already completed by Judge Conley will have a different opinion.

2)    Gannett has a little sore loser in them so they are using the assets they do have (money, lawyers) to make things hard on the WIAA with the hope they either give up or at least have to spend a lot of money in the process.

Based on what I have read, I am leaning towards it being number 2, but judge for yourself.  The entire judgment can be downloaded here and below are some excerpts that made me think there is no way they can possibly think they are still in the right (and they are entertaining to boot):

[blockquote]Page 1 – Ultimately, this is a case about commerce, not the right to a free press. 

Page 2 – While WIAA has limited defendants ability to use its tournament events to generate advertising dollars on other companies websites, the Constitution does not require the government to assist private entities in making a profit.

Page 19 – (the defendants) have an uphill battle on many fronts.  To begin with, a well-crafted argument is no substitute for supporting case law. 

Page 29 – The record shows some venues would not be able to accommodate more than one broadcaster, and no venue would accommodate everyone who wishes to set up a camera for streaming. Defendants fail to explain how WIAA could have intended to create a public forum under those circumstances.

Page 33 – Alternatively, defendants argue that WIAA could raise the same amount of revenue by raising ticket prices on the general public.  This may be defendants boldest argument, as well as the least sympathetic one.

Page 40 – In fact, the internet streaming policy does not prohibit defendants from expressing a single thought, opinion or analysis about a game.

Page 42 – In any event, it would have accomplished nothing for WIAA to have a bidding process – at least as far as defendants are concerned – because defendants do not suggest that they could have or would have made an equal or better offer than WWWY, in terms of services provided or price.

Page 43 – Since WIAA has a legitimate interest in raising revenue to support its programs, it could rationally conclude that it was better served by a guaranteed, annual payment under an exclusive license than by a collection of free-riding media companies.

Page 45 – Defendants are paying for the privilege of using a facility leased by WIAA so that they may stream the game on their own websites with the intent of generating advertising dollars.  Def Br. Dkt #107 at 1 (conceding that they "hope to someday profit, through increased website traffic and selling advertisements, by streaming tournament events"). Defendants cannot argue plausibly that they have a first or fourteenth amendment right to force plantiffs to open up and reserve space in a WIAA facility simply to provide defendants with a free source of revenue.


So further examining motive number two (and since the WIAA s revenues, employees salaries, etc were shared in newsprint) I would like to throw some numbers out to you.   Gannett made 5.63 billion dollars in 2009, billion with a B.  Their CEO took home a $2.39 million dollar payday and they had 3 other executives top the $800K mark.  

So, yeah, they have a few nickels to spend on lawyers.

I d also like to point out that all of this is going on while prep writers across the state are being laid off, downsized, bought out and taking mandatory furloughs to save their parent companies money.  With all the money Gannett is spending on lawyers they could have kept their writers working and paid the whopping $250 per game state tournament streaming fees. 

Let's hope we can soon get the focus out of the court room and back to a court we're all more familiar with.

Tag(s): News Archive  Nicholas Kartos  Nick at Night