Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Football Fixtures: Update

Hmmm.

A couple of updates on the whole sorry saga of reporting the football fixtures.

A quick recap: Agents of the SPL - not lawyers but citing legal stuff - got in touch to say I'd been using the SPL logo without permission. Fair cop, guv. Hands up. Caught me red handed. Images removed.

I'd also committed the far murkier crime of reporting the fixture lists for the 2010/11 SPL season. Or the first three weeks of them at any rate.

But the fixture lists are copyrighted and can't be used without a licence. I removed the offending information and sought clarification.

From the Press Association's Yorkshire HQ I found out that purchasing a licence would cost me more than £3000. A depressingly high chunk of my depressingly low annual salary.

I also asked about special licences that I had heard could be granted to fanzines:

"Please note in order to be granted the club's official fanzine, you must have written permission from the specified Football club on the club's letter-headed paper stating they authorise your organisation to be their official fanzine. A licence agreement will then be granted at the cost of £1 + VAT."

That's an important chink in the armour and I hope anyone who has a dedicated club blog can make use of it. But it's no good to me.

So what can I publish?

A list of fixtures is definitely out. Even publishing the weekend's fixtures above or below a post with match previews is not allowed.

But what about shorter match previews? Something like this:
  • Celtic v Hibernian (12.15): Is the season not over yet? v Is the season not over yet? Home win.
  • Aberdeen v Falkirk: Freefalling v Hanging on in there. Draw.
  • Hamilton v Kilmarnock: Scrambling to safety v Still stuck in the mess. Home win.
  • St Johnstone v St Mirren: Slumming it v Bedsit Buddies. Home win.
  • Rangers v Hearts (12.30, Sunday): Champions elect v Hibee hunters. Home win.
  • Motherwell v Dundee United (4.15, Sunday): Running out of steam v Full steam ahead. Away win.
Here's the reply:

"Lose the bullet points & match times and transfer that information into a paragraph then that should be fine."

Lose the match times? This is a madness and no eloquent defence of copyright laws will persuade me otherwise.

But my match previews and crap predictions can live to fight another day. As long as I stick to editorial I should be fine - although this conflicts with information that other blogs had been given or at least with the interpretation of other bloggers.

What I can't do is feature more than one round of fixtures. So I couldn't publish a preview on a Friday that looked at both the weekend fixtures and the midweek fixtures. But if I publish a weekend preview on a Friday and a midweek preview on a Monday I'll be fine.

People are paid money to make sure that this craziness is enforced. It's almost enough to make me rant long and hard about the madness of a modern world that I'm not sure I'll ever understand. But I'll spare you and stick to just banging my head repeatedly off the desk.

I think the SPL and their cohorts in England are misguided on this. The way football is reported and debated is changing and they are deliberately pricing a sizeable constituency out of the market. In the long term I don't think that makes good business sense.

I'm also not exactly enamoured with the legal decisions that are letting them get away with it. It raises questions of what constitutes editorial and news reporting that I don't think were suitably answered in previous court cases.

A different day, a different judge, and I think the football authorities might have to reconsider their position. I certainly hope so.

I don't want to - I couldn't - compete with the newspapers or the BBC on this. But if we've reached the stage where publishing details of three weeks of fixtures or publishing a preview that happens to mention kick off times is not allowed without coughing up thousands of pounds then the game is in real trouble. And the guardians of the game are completely out of sync with the modern media.

Anyway these are questions for the future.

In the meantime expect references to what I'll be eating for lunch during match previews of games that may or may not be kicking off early. Or how I'll be looking forward to watching games that may or may not be being played on a Sunday when I return from my weekly prayers.

All a stupid waste of time.

And I would argue that the reporting of kick off times might be covered by the concept of fair use in copyright law. But if I've not got three grand for the fixtures I've certainly not got the cash for a legal challenge on a point of principle.

I must say thanks to Jack at Net Result for his prompt and clear replies. I don't agree with him - or at least I don't agree with his professional stance on the issue - and I certainly don't admire the tactic of his company in sending out emails which some people might misguidedly believe are being sent by lawyers.

But he's doing his job and he wasn't afraid to engage with the long list of questions I had - and I'll admit my tone was not as friendly as it might have been.

No marks whatsoever to the SPL. I've sent two or three emails on the matter. I even opened up my correspondence with them to ask how they feel the blogging community fits into the coverage of the game.

Can a game choking with debt and falling attendances, a league that needs all the publicity it can get, afford to turn its back on a growing and, I think, often worthwhile community of bloggers?

That's an interesting question. I know what my opinion is but I don't have the same considerations of commerce and income streams that the SPL are forced to juggle with. So I was genuinely intrigued to see how they responded, what plans they have to contend with the trade off between recognising that the internet is changing the consumption of football news and their more traditional role of promoting the game and maximising their revenue.

I very much doubt my external links to the SPL are of much value to them. But people were leaving this site and going to the official SPL site - that was largely the point of the two posts I've been asked to remove. This blog's newest policy is to include no outgoing links to the SPL website. I'd encourage other bloggers to do the same. And I'd love to know how they feel about shutting down that avenue of - completely free - promotion.

I think there is at least the need to have a debate on this. As their agents had approached me I felt I was as entitled as anyone to raise it with them.

They've ignored all my emails.

The tragedy is that I'm not at all surprised by their silence.