Copyright issues on Sideline Access mobile app?

 sideline-access

From ASNE Legal Hotline/Kevin Goldberg

Q: I recently became aware of a new mobile app that allows high schools to provide content related to their sports teams for easy access by students, parents and other fans. I looked it over and saw that the pages for some schools contain information beyond what’s posted by the schools themselves (which seems like it is written by students at the school, by coaches or administrators or even interested parents). For instance, in addition to the rosters, upcoming schedules and past results for one or more sports teams, there are recaps of past games and other “news” stories. Although some of these are written by those affiliated with the schools, I’ve also seen content from local newspapers. There’s no content from my paper on the pages for my local school, but wouldn’t this app be infringing my copyrights if an article from my paper or website were posted there without my permission? What could I do if that happened?

A: You must be talking about the Sideline Access app that was created in partnership with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to, as the Sideline Access website describes, provide “powerful tools to improve communications” and “drive community engagement to local sports programs.” I’ve downloaded the app to play around with it myself after hearing similar questions from ASNE members and others. It’s interesting and definitely a useful tool for people who want quick and easy access to information about all the sports teams from their favorite high schools, but the inclusion of content from outside sources without the copyright owner’s consent could very well constitute copyright infringement.

If you are interested in learning more about the Sideline Access app, then I suggest you download it yourself to kick the tires a bit. It’s hard to fully explain the app in writing, but I’ll do my best. Basically, a user can search for information about various schools using the menu provided in the app. He or she can find a particular school by selecting a state and a city (a city will only appear as a choice if schools within that city are participating in the app) and then selecting an individual school. There is also a function that allows the user to mark multiple schools as “favorites” for more direct access to their pages in the future.

Once the user has selected a particular school, he or she can peruse certain information about the school’s athletic teams, including schedules, rosters, local supporters (who would seem to be akin to advertisers or sponsors), social media accounts for the school and athletic program, and schedules. All of this is posted by the school itself (or more accurately, the school’s authorized designee, which could likely be anyone from the athletic director to the various individual coaches or team managers to students to interested parents).

For our purposes, the most relevant option is “News.” Most of the content found under the “News” tabs for a particular school involves garden variety results and factual information. Some schools might have recap stories posted by staff or student reporters. These do not present copyright issues.

But I have seen instances where a story from outside media, like the local newspaper, is imported to the site. As far as I can tell, the story is attributed to the proper source (news stories are generally accompanied by a short introduction identifying the author, source, photo credit and date). However, attribution of a story does not create consent to republish a story; that story likely has still been published without the copyright owner’s permission and its publication might very well constitute copyright infringement.

I’ll note that the inclusion of stories from outside media seems to have declined in recent weeks, but I’ll also admit that I haven’t been looking at every individual school page. I have heard from a few people that their communications to Sideline Access were met with responses redirecting the publication to the individual school administrators; that, of course, creates an awkward situation because I’d assume that the last thing you want to do is get into a fight with the athletic director or other administrators of the schools in your local community, who you’ll regularly interact with in coverage and in the community, some of whom may also be your friends.

So what can you do? Well, given that every individual situation requires an individualized response, the best thing you can do for the time being is familiarize yourself with the Sideline Access app and perhaps periodically monitor your local schools’ pages on a regular basis to see if your content has been posted without your permission. If that occurs, then you should contact an attorney to discuss the facts of your particular situation in more detail.

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