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Today from the Old Grey Lady:

The Southeastern Conference, home to some of the nation’s most prominent and lucrative university athletic programs, has issued rules in the past week prohibiting fans from distributing photographs or video of its games in real time for commercial use. Like a growing number of pro and college teams nationwide, the conference sees money to be made online from the exploits of its athletes.

The vagueness of the term “for commercial use” poses a real conundrum in the blog world. While the photos and videos might not be sold as a stand-alone product in and of themselves, most bloggers – of all sizes – sell ad space on their websites, be it through a network or with a built in service like Google AdSense:

The rules are aimed not at the casual fan who might post a few pictures of Saturday’s football game on a personal Web site, but rather those who copy television broadcasts, create their own highlight reels and post them on sites charging for access or advertising.

While individuals ranging from Sandra Baron, the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center (“continuing effort to put a stranglehold on objective, third-party news organizations”) and bloggers like Ethan Jaynes of SECfootballblogger.com (“now that Big Brother ESPN is in the picture everything has to be corporate and very ‘NFL’ish”) see the move as hindering the flow of information, really what it’s about is curbing the flow of revenue.

The NYT points out that the conference signed 15-year television contracts with ESPN and CBS in August.  “The SEC Digital Network, as it will be known, is not unlike what Major League Baseball and other professional leagues have done with video from their games to create highlight reels, slide shows and other montages.”

SEC spokesman Charles Bloom: “We want to protect our rights to have video between the conference and its members, and ban the commercial sale of photo images. Fans can post photos on their site or Facebook page, but they can’t be for sale.”

What it comes down to is a very complex argument.  In this case, fans are not pilfering AP photos or televised footage, but rather images they have taken themselves at a public event.  Applying this to any genre other than sports would seem absurd.  Imagine the Vatican curbing the publication of photos and videos shot by attendees at a Papal appearance.  Or a firecompany cracking down on photographs of their engines during a parade.

Regardless, one can argue it’s their legally protected product, trademarks and copyrights.  Free publicity to millions of rabid and targeted fans/consumers be damned.