PGA Tour policy raising legal concerns in Australia

The 2011 Presidents Cup is a bi-annual golf competition between professionals from the U.S. and the rest of the globe (excluding Europe) set to take place at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club on November 14-20, 2011.  The Presidents Cup alternates locations between a U.S. venue and an international venue on each occasion, but the event is organized and sponsored by the PGA Tour.  As a result, all PGA Tour rules and policies apply to the tournament despite the fact that it takes place on foreign soil this year.  It seems that the PGA Tour policies and media restrictions as to updates, footage, and social media content is getting Australian journalists and prospective attendees a bit upset.

Robert Grant of The Age reports that golf fans at the Presidents Cup will be banned from using social media about the event as the tournament shapes as the most restrictive ever staged in Australia.

While a wrangle over accreditation has led to the strong possibility mainstream media will not provide coverage, in a first for this country, organiser the US PGA Tour is set to crack down on ticket-holders.

The PGA Tour could employ under-cover representatives to try to prevent spectators tweeting or emailing information and photos from Royal Melbourne, according to the Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

Meanwhile, Tim Cook of the Sydney Morning Herald details some of the restrictions on releasing footage of the event that has the Australian media up in arms.

The American organisers of this month’s Presidents Cup tournament in Melbourne, the PGA Tour, have demanded Australian news organisations delay posting scores online by half an hour and not provide readers with real-time coverage.

Under its rules, TV stations would also be banned from showing any footage until Fox Sports and Channel Nine, who hold the broadcast rights, have finished their coverage. Even then, other broadcasters will be allowed to show only three minutes a day if they accept the PGA Tour conditions, despite Australian copyright law protecting news reporting.

The PGA Tour has a history of suing organisations in the US which publish scores of its tournaments in real time, but the copyright laws in Australia are significantly different.

Golf journalist Geoff Shackelford has been following the events closely and reporting on updates as to the free speech and privacy concerns related to the PGA Tour policies in effect for the Presidents Cup.  His recent blog posts have covered this issue extensively and he poses a great question:

What remains to be seen: what happens if the Aussie press and fans, used to more liberal usage of social media at sporting events, ignore their regulations.

And here I thought the Stevie-Tiger reunion would be the highlight of the week!

This sounds like a very intriguing showdown between the American-based PGA Tour and the Australian news outlets.  I’m sure much of the rights (or lack thereof) are detailed in the contracts between the PGA Tour and the Royal Melbourne/Australian media.  However, this must feel like an egregious affront to Australians’ notions of copyright laws because the event is taking place on Australian soil but under PGA Tour rules.  The PGA Tour has never been shy to litigation and taking on legal battles, so it should be interesting to watch the fall out from this should any further controversy arise.

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