Originally created 05/28/03

Media back Morris' PGA suit

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Fourteen U.S. media organizations have joined together to ask an appeals court to overturn a federal judge's decision prohibiting The Augusta Chronicle's parent company from disseminating live golf scores from PGA Tour events via the Internet.

"The district court's decision, if left uncorrected, would permit PGA Tour and others to subvert totally the media's First Amendment right to report the news and the public's corresponding right to receive the news," the organizations say in a friend of the court brief filed with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Those signing on include The New York Times Co., Newspaper Association of America and Associated Press Sports Editors.

The PGA Tour has asked the appeals court to reject the brief.

"This case is an antitrust case, not a First Amendment case," PGA Tour attorney James Riley asserted in a formal reply.

Morris Communications Co., based in Augusta, sued the Florida-based PGA Tour in 2000 over the right to sell real-time scores from golf tournaments to Internet customers. The PGA Tour said it would revoke Morris's media credentials unless it agreed not to syndicate the scores live, arguing that it spent millions developing its own scoring system to provide real-time scores on its Internet site.

In December, U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger held that the PGA Tour has a property right in its scoring system until scores are in the public domain, which he described as occurring when they are broadcast.

Morris appealed Schlesinger's decision to the 11th Circuit. That so many media organizations are on record supporting the company's position lends credence to its arguments, Morris attorney Tim Conner said.

"It's very important for this brief to have been submitted ... because it shows a broad base of support from the media industry," he said.

The brief outlines First Amendment and copyright arguments against Schlesinger's decision and argues that the public, including the media, has unfettered rights to disseminate factual information. It disputes Schlesinger's definition of the public domain, defining it instead as "all material that is not protected by federal copyright law."

"Under the district court's decision, the facts of a fatal accident that occurs during a non-televised NASCAR race would be the private property of NASCAR, and NASCAR could bar the media from reporting such facts as a condition of gaining access to the race," the brief says. "In fact, under the district court's reasoning, NASCAR could prevent spectators from disclosing those facts by printing such a limitation on admission tickets."

Gregg Leslie, a legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said Schlesinger's ruling would set a dangerous precedent by placing newsgathering restrictions on media credentials.

The PGA Tour has until June 12 to respond to Morris's appeal.


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