The “human cannonball,” Hugo Zacchini, left an indelible impression on the law in his seminal case against Scripps-Howard 34 years ago. Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co., 433 U.S. 562 (1977). Zacchini’s case affirmed his right to control viewing of his unique 15-second performance in which he was shot from a cannon. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not grant the media the right to broadcast Zacchini’s entire performance without his permission.
Zacchini’s enduring legacy shot down a recent First Amendment challenge by Gannett to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s exclusive licensing of live internet streaming of high school sporting events. In rejecting Gannett’s claims, the Seventh Circuit relied heavily on the Zacchini case in ruling that “nothing in the First Amendment confers on the media an affirmative right to broadcast entire performances.” Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association v. Gannett Co., No. 10-2627 (Aug. 24, 2011). The Court distinguished broadcast of an entire performance from coverage of the event, and made it clear that media coverage of high school events could not be granted or restricted on a selective basis.
The only recourse left to Gannett is to seek certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which must be filed within 90 days of the Seventh Circuit’s decision.