Former wrestling coach Jim Gibbons urges lawmakers to strip Iowa PBS copyright

By: - January 26, 2022 6:24 pm

Domes at the Iowa Capitol. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Following a dispute over a wrestling documentary, former Iowa State University wrestling coach Jim Gibbons is pushing to classify the state’s public television content as public record.

But Iowa PBS says passage of the bill would lead to legal action against the state.

In 2020, Iowa PBS was working with a California production company to create a documentary on the 1986 match-up between Iowa State and University of Iowa. That was Gibbons’ first year as head coach, and the second-ranked Cyclones defeated the top dog Hawkeyes in the final match of the season.

Gibbons was involved in the documentary, but Susan Ramsey, director of communications at Iowa PBS, said Gibbons was never part of the contract for the project.

When the contract between Iowa PBS and the production company ended, Iowa PBS ceased production of the documentary. Ramsey said Iowa PBS wanted to continue the project, but “those discussions broke down over editorial control.”

Ramsey said Gibbons had not been in contact with the station since last summer, when production of the documentary ended.

Jake Highfill, a lobbyist working pro-bono for Gibbons, said the dispute spurred Gibbons to advocate for making all content from Iowa PBS more accessible.

Gibbons is the primary proponent of House File 579, a bill that states all “records, videos, electronic storage, documents, tapes, and other information” kept by the Iowa public broadcasting board would be considered public records. That would include everything from high school sports to broadcasts of the Des Moines Metro Opera — and the 1986 Cyclone-Hawkeye duel.

In a meeting with lawmakers on the proposal, Gibbons argued making Iowa PBS footage public record would help preserve the “cherished memories” of young athletes. He did not mention his own plans to use the footage, but he spoke about the importance of allowing content creators to “tell the heritage of our competitive youth.”

“We’re in a situation here where we’re really trying to go ahead and provide access, openness and tell those untold stories,” Gibbons said. 

Gibbons has enlisted six lobbyists on the legislation, including Highfill, a former state representative.

Ramsey speculated Gibbons had his own motivations for supporting the legislation, especially as Iowa PBS works on a state-funded archive project to make more of its content accessible to the public.

“We know that Mr. Gibbons is interested in some of our copyrighted, archival footage and would like access to that for free,” Ramsey said.

Iowa PBS predicts lawsuits

The Iowa Public Broadcasting Board predicted an onslaught of legal challenges if lawmakers pass the proposal.

“If we can’t protect this content with regards to the rights that have been negotiated, then there will be lawsuits — not against Iowa PBS, but against the State of Iowa,” said Molly Phillips, executive director and general manager of Iowa PBS. “Should House Study Bill 579 become law, Iowa PBS would be forced to file a lawsuit to protect our copyright, and this would be a significant amount of money.”

Phillips argued that the station’s copyright protects broadcasts from being misused by third parties, noting that videos often include teenage athletes, children and families. 

“This content will then be used by anyone, anywhere, and in any way,” she said. “There would be no way to protect it from being edited, misrepresented, monetized, sold (or) licensed outright to a third party.”

Representatives from the Iowa Girls High School Athletics Union and the Des Moines Metro Opera told lawmakers they value the control Iowa PBS exerts over their content.

“(The bill’s) passage would prohibit our continued partnership with Iowa PBS and severely jeopardize our continued operations, going forward, bringing the arts to residents of Iowa,” said Metro Opera General Director Michael Egel.

The public broadcasting board proposed its own bill that would allow it to maintain intellectual property rights over the material and charge fees for its usage. Ramsey said the bill was based on the counsel of the Iowa attorney general, and not retaliation against Gibbons.

A House subcommittee considered both bills Tuesday evening. Republicans Rep. Megan Jones and Rep. Brent Siegrist recommended the passage of the bill to make Iowa PBS content public record.

“After 40 years, why shouldn’t somebody be able to use the actual footage of the wrestling match that was broadcast in public TV?” Siegrist told the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Siegrist said Wednesday that the committee would consider amendments on the proposal. One potential option: changing the bill so it only applies to sporting events.

The subcommittee of Siegrist, Rep. Carter Nordman and Rep. Cindy Winckler moved the public broadcasting board’s bill.

Editor’s note: This story was updated from the original version to clarify that the subcommittee advanced the public broadcasting board’s bill to the full committee and to clarify that while Iowa PBS expects litigation if Gibbons’ bill passes, including litigation against the state, it is not anticipating suing the state. This story was also updated from the original version to clarify that Gibbons is not currently seeking film from Iowa PBS.


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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.