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England’s Top Soccer League Wants To Limit Live Online Match Coverage

Critical talks between the Premier League and Football League over how matches will be covered by national newspapers and news agencies have broken down at the 11th hour, threatening to disrupt press coverage of the opening games of the season.

The two sides have been locked in negotiations for several months to negotiate what rights reporters, photographers and clients who take content from news agencies such as Reuters (NYSE: TRI) and the Press Association will have to cover Premiership and Football League matches this season.

The talks are understood to have broken down on Wednesday night after representatives of the football governing bodies walked away from discussions about a new agreement, with disagreements centring on aspects such as how fast pictures can appear and on how real-time match blogs operate.

Instead, the Premier League tabled a deal which the media coalition claims places highly restrictive limits on the use of news content produced at football grounds.

“They run to 16 pages of legal constraints, which among other things include league controls on how and when news can be published online – and how news material can be distributed to fans at home and overseas,” the media coalition said in a statement.

“In many instances they also require users of content to obtain and pay for permission from the Leagues for their coverage.”

The media coalition, made of representatives from national newspapers and news agencies, is understood to have been seeking to get the existing agreement, which dates back to the 2003-04 season, changed as it feels the deal is outdated for a digital age and some elements are unfair.

“They [the Premier League] seem to have just been wanting to run down the clock to table the same, unacceptable, deal as before,” said one source with knowledge of the negotiations. “They are trying to hold a gun to the head of the media.”

Previously, news agencies and national newspapers had brokered separate deals with the football bodies.

The coalition has been trying to remove clauses about “delay and volume windows” which control the amount of text and pictures that can be published online and when they are allowed to appear.

The coalition argues that in a digital age with new media tools such as blogs, Twitter and Flickr available to any member of the public, the idea of limiting newspapers and news agencies coverage is not realistic.

It is understood that the football bodies were aiming to insert a new clause that would not allow a journalist who is reporting live from a match to interact with readers or have elements such as comments enabled.

Another issue is that under the previous agreement with news agencies – but not that struck with national newspapers – there was a need for what is known as a separate end user license for any media outlet looking to take content on matches.

The coalition has threatened that agency and newspaper coverage of football could be disrupted as a result.

“In the absence of meaningful discussions, news organisations are in the process of identifying how best to serve their readers including loyal fans with independent news and analysis,” the group said.

The media coalition said that talks have broken down and that the football bodies have refused to even consider the latest proposals.

The negotiators say that a letter written to members of the coalition from the football bodies stating that discussions are continuing is not true.

“This is inaccurate,” the coalition said in a statement. “The talks are not ongoing, they have broken down.”

While the coalition says it is ready to re-start discussions, there is a chance that coverage of matches could be disrupted.

Rights holders and the media industry have had a number of run-ins over accreditation and usage of content.

Last year, Southampton FC tried to introduce a ban on photographers covering home games, stating that all images had to come from its own photographers on normal commercial terms.

In response, the Sun ran a highly critical report of Southampton’s first fixture of the season, headlined Opposition 0, Plymouth 1. The Plymouth Herald ran pictures in the style of a Roy of the Rovers cartoon.

In 2008, Reuters, Associated Press and AFP suspended coverage of Cricket Australia matches and events because of a dispute over accreditation terms.

Ahead of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, a number of international agencies boycotted covering pre-tournament events over a media rights dispute with the International Rugby Board. The Sun used images from the 2003 World Cup to illustrate a double-page spread.

The negotiations for media have been led by the Newspaper Publishers Association – which counts Associated Newspapers, the Independent, Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI), News International, Financial Times, Telegraph and Guardian News & Media as members – and the News Media Coalition which also includes news agencies such as Reuters, Associated Press, AFP and the Press Association.

This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.

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