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What do Southeastern Conference Rules Say About the Future of Media

These days anyone with an iPhone is a citizen journalist. And that makes the Southeastern Conference, which has a $3 billion plus, 15-year contract with CBS and ESPN very, very scared. There was talk of banning fans from Tweeting or updating their Facebook status from the stands. That would have been ridiculous -- a logistical impossibility and totally unreasonable. But now the SEC is cracking down on the professional and semi-professional coverage of its games. New SEC rules ban fans from distributing any form of real-time event coverage for commercial use, including blogs, photos, or video.

Pandora's box has been opened when it comes to technology, which empowers anyone and everyone to broadcast their experiences. Now the SEC is trying to draw a line between what's fair and reasonable and what's not. The organization doesn't want users to be able to immediately post photos or video if they're profiting from it. The SEC's new rules target ad-supported or subscription-access superfan blogs -- check out wildcatsthunderblog.com or rollbamaroll.com. But they also affect newspapers, which want to supplement their online coverage with photos and video. The SEC is hoping to market its own online archive of video to fans starting this fall, and that content will be a lot less valuable if it's also available elsewhere. But is it legal for the SEC to so dramatically restrict journalistic coverage?

These new rules are sure to face serious pushback from traditional media, bloggers, and fans, and I'd be surprised if we didn't see some major litigation. Sandra Baron, the Executive Director of the Media Law Resource Center points out that when sports leagues like the SEC involve publicly funded teams -- public universities and high schools -- it's much harder to put severe limits on what seems like ordinary newsgathering of otherwise public events.

My colleague Darren Rovell points out that the new SEC rules are totally oblivious to the way threatening blogs work; they're not competing with real-time video on ESPN, they're giving thoughtful analysis after the fact. The SEC may be misguided in its concerns, but this still points to what's going to be a huge, ongoing conflict moving forward. Technology will continue to make it increasingly easy for people to cover events in new ways. What happens if fans can profit from ads on their Twitter feeds? If you're Tweeting about a game will the SEC demand a cut? Or tell you you can't tweet? This is hardly the first time a sports league has tried to restrict un-official coverage. A few years ago Major League baseball issued rules to limit the number of photos of games that could be used on newspaper and other websites. This goes far further than that and will cause much more conflict.

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.