—– Tennis Canada CEO and President Michael S. Downey’s lawyer David Outerbridge has threatened to launch a defamation suit and “forcibly remove” veteran Canadian journalist Christopher Johnson from tennis events.
Mr. Johnson, a full-time working journalist since 1984 and part-time tennis coach who has been accredited at tennis events worldwide since 2006, says that Tennis Canada has blacklisted him and refused to pay him for unauthorized usage of his photographs between 2015-18, in violation of Canada’s Copyright Act.
Mr. Johnson says that Mr. Downey, who set up a personal account on Facebook, went outside of his normal employment duties and blocked him on social media at the end of July 2018 after Mr. Johnson made several requests for resolutions. Mr. Johnson claims that Mr. Downey and Tennis Canada officials and employees are making false allegations and blacklisting him from tennis events he has previously covered, including Rogers Cup. He says Tennis Canada denied him media accreditation three days before the tournament started in Toronto.
He says Mr. Downey is spending thousands of dollars on legal fees instead of paying a working pro photographer.
Johnson has filed a civil claim in Alberta provincial court claiming that Mr. Downey and Tennis Canada players Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime allegedly infringed his copyrighted photos between 2015 and 2018. He said that they have refused to pay him photos that they have used for commercial purposes on Tennis Canada’s sites and their own sites, as well as fan sites that promote them.
The defendants have disputed the claims in a 28-point note filed with the provincial court through a law firm in Calgary. The defendants denied they broke the law, and they claimed that Johnson benefited from “exposure”, “photo credit” and the “promotional value” of Tennis Canada’s sites using his work. They said their usage of Johnson’s photographs wasn’t for commercial purposes, and it was either “unintentional” or based on a “reasonable belief” they had consent to reproduce his work. They have asked Johnson to pay them “enhanced costs” for the court action.
Johnson says he has refuted each of their claims.
Mr. Johnson said that Mr. Downey and his lawyers receive hourly, weekly or monthly salaries and payments while dragging him through a legal process. “As an independent journalist, I do not receive payment for time spent on this case. In fact, the time and energy spent on this legal process causes me to lose money, and damages my ability to focus time and energy on my work.”
In several emails since August 2018, Tennis Canada’s lawyers have told Mr. Johnson he cannot contact Mr. Downey or any Tennis Canada employees or players directly for comment.
In August, Mr. Outerbridge told Mr. Johnson, who was attending the Rogers Cup tennis event in Toronto, that he could be “forcibly removed” by police or security.
“We understand that yesterday you attended at the Rogers Cup, approached a Tennis Canada employee and engaged in discussion and conduct with him in a manner that the employee found to be vexatious and harassing,” Mr. Outerbridge, a lawyer with Torys in Toronto, wrote in an email August 5. “You are hereby advised that if you attend at the Rogers Cup event again, you will be denied entry, and you will be forcibly removed if necessary.”
Mr. Johnson said he was among thousands of fans peacefully attending the public event sanctioned by Tennis Canada, a federal crown corporation which benefits from taxpayer funding and preferential treatment. He says he recorded his polite, 60-second conversation after a chance meeting with Tennis Canada employee Jeff Donaldson, and it was not “vexatious and harassing”. Mr. Johnson claims that Mr. Donaldson, a digital media worker for Tennis Canada, has a long history of using copyrighted photos and videos on social media without permission from content creators.
Bob Campbell, a security chief for the Association of Tennis Professionals, later told Mr. Johnson in Ohio that Mr. Downey made accusations against him that could result in permanent banishment from tennis events.
Mr. Johnson has been covering tennis, basketball and other sports worldwide for clients and major media worldwide including CNN, Toronto Star, National Post, New York Times, Washington Times, South China Morning Post and tennis specialist sites such as www.GrandSlamMagazine.com.
Mr. Johnson said he’s been accredited at major sporting events worldwide throughout his career including world championships in basketball, soccer, volleyball, and tennis events in Melbourne, Dubai, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Wimbledon, Montreal, Ohio, Tokyo, Prague and elsewhere.
Mr. Johnson claims that no tournaments have given him accreditation since the August incidents and Tennis Canada’s threats against him.
Mr. Johnson said that he had good relations with several Tennis Canada employees such as veteran writer Tom Tebbutt, who interviewed Johnson at Wimbledon last July.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaUlu9O9Xk8&feature=youtu.be (interview after 3:50 mark)
Mr. Downey, through his lawyer Mr. Outerbridge with the firm Torys in Toronto, threatened in a January 7 email to sue Mr. Johnson for defamation. He did not provide evidence to support his claim.
“You have made defamatory statements about certain tennis players and Tennis Canada personnel,” wrote Mr. Outerbridge. “While any person is entitled to raises issues with Tennis Canada regarding the alleged use of photos (with the merits of that argument to be assessed once the requested particulars are provided), you are not permitted to make disparaging statements about tennis players and Tennis Canada personnel in the process. Please cease and desist from making any further disparaging comments. Tennis Canada reserves its right to take appropriate measures, including legal proceedings if necessary, in connection with such defamatory statements.”
Mr. Johnson says the accusations are false, and he has been hyping Tennis Canada and it’s players the past decade while accredited at a dozen events worldwide including Wimbledon and the French Open.
“I have the legal right to work as a journalist in Canada,” Mr. Johnson wrote in an email to Mr. Outerbridge. “You are not above the law, and you are not authorized with powers to enforce “laws” or rules of your own making.”
Since graduating from Carleton University’s School of Journalism in Ottawa in 1987, Mr. Johnson has worked in more than 100 countries and 10 war zones including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, East Timor and the former Yugoslavia for major media worldwide, according to his bio on various websites. He reconstructed the Suai church massacre for the Associated Press in East Timor in 1999. In 2008 he moved images from Lhasa of the Tibetan uprising which Reuters listed among their Pictures of the Decade. The Canadian Association of Journalists in 2014 nominated his work from a disaster zone in the Philippines for Best Online Media competing with CBC, Global and Huffington Post.
“I have the legal right to approach Jeff Donaldson or anyone else who is a vital source in a story, especially considering Donaldson’s role in this investigation,” Mr. Johnson wrote in an email to Mr. Outerbridge. “Do citizens have the right to ban your entry into your workplaces and ‘forcibly remove’ you from the TD South Tower? Of course not. Thus you have no right to threaten, bully, silence and intimidate a working journalist.”
“I also have the right to use my purchased tickets and take friends and children to Rogers Cup, an event involving organizations funded in part by my tax dollars. If you do take violent and unlawful actions to carry out your violent threats and ‘forcibly remove’ me, my friends or these children, you face serious legal consequences. This story is in the public interest, and we have the legal right to record and publish everything.”
Tennis Canada, which receives millions of dollars in funding from taxpayers and donors, is a federal corporation consisting of Tennis Alberta and other provincial bodies overseeing tennis in Canada. Mr. Johnson said that Tennis Canada, which runs www.tenniscanada.com, is a de facto media organization advertising products (such as posters, hats and clothing and promoting the Rogers Cup, Davis Cup and other events which generate millions of dollars in revenue.
“Without a reasonable doubt, Tennis Canada is using text, photos, videos and other forms of media content for commercial purposes. Thus it’s a media organization competing directly with my media organization,” Mr. Johnson said.
Tennis Canada CEO and President Downey claims on LinkedIn that he’s responsible for a $75 million business “which spends $15 million annually to grow the game of tennis.” Mr. Downey also claims that he reports to a “volunteer board of directors” and oversees “full time staff contingent of 120”.
British press reports claim that Mr. Downey earned around a million dollars per year as head of the Lawn Tennis Association before quitting his five-year term after three years. Mr. Downey’s current remuneration from Tennis Canada is not clear.
British tennis star Andy Murray in Melbourne this week criticized the Lawn Tennis Association for failing to capitalize on his success and develop tennis in Britain. He cited statistics claiming that Britain has lost 60,000 tennis players in recent years.
“I don’t understand how in the last eight to ten years that participation is dropping,” Mr. Murray told reporters in Melbourne. “I don’t get it. I know in Scotland that there have not been many indoor courts built in the last ten years. That seems madness.”
A profile of Mr. Downey in The Guardian in 2017 noted that Mr. Downey, in his first month leading Tennis Canada in 2004, didn’t recognize Roger Federer, the greatest player ever.
“After my first interview I said to my wife: ‘I’ve actually got to go and figure out who is No1 in the world. I didn’t even know what Davis Cup was,” Mr. Downey told The Guardian. “Coaches would sit with me and they wouldn’t be intimidated because I wasn’t going to teach them a backhand. I just wanted to facilitate growth. Sometimes if you know too much you actually meddle too much.”
Several British reporters wrote that Mr. Downey did not have great relations with Mr. Murray, whose “relationship with the organisation has been distant for many years,” wrote Simon Briggs in the Telegraph. “Michael Downey, who ran the LTA between 2014 and 2017, barely managed a meeting with him, and it does not seem that the new incumbent Scott Lloyd has changed the pattern.”
The Guardian claimed that “Andy Murray has been unimpressed by Downey – and his relationship with the LTA has always verged on the dysfunctional. Murray has achieved great success despite the LTA’s past failings and he is reluctant to endorse a body that has often appeared lumbering and complacent. Downey must feel acute disappointment and a sense of personal failure that he could not forge a decent working relationship with Murray.”
Murray said he wasn’t surprised that Mr. Downey quit his LTA post two years ahead of schedule. “Everyone thought that’s always what was going to happen there. They need someone that’s going to be in it for the long haul. They just have to have a 100% commitment to British tennis. For a system that maybe everyone would say has not really worked for quite a long time, for change to happen, you need someone or a team in there that’s going to be in it for not just a few years.”
Canada’s greatest male player Milos Raonic has praised Mr. Downey in the past, saying that though Mr. Downey doesn’t know tennis, he surrounded himself with people who do. Tennis Canada has grown into a large and profitable commercial enterprise under Mr. Downey’s leadership. After Mr. Downey left Tennis Canada for the British LTA, Mr. Raonic and Genie Bouchard beat higher-ranked players to reach Wimbledon singles finals, and Vasek Pospisil won Wimbledon doubles.
Past and current employees have raised questions about the professionalism of Tennis Canada’s digital operations, noting that Tennis Canada tends to use unpaid or low-paid interns lacking experience. It’s not clear how much Mr. Downey and Tennis Canada have paid writers, photographers and their digital communications team. Other photographers have claimed that Tennis Canada has used their work without payment.
“If Tennis Canada, with 120 full-time employees, is indeed spending $15 million annually, they can clearly afford to pay photographers and their digital media team,” Mr. Johnson said.
Tennis Canada has claimed that about five million Canadians — about one in every seven people — are what they call “occasional tennis players”.
Tennis Canada’s website claims that their donors include Andrzej Kepinski, agent for rising star Denis Shapovalov, as well as TD Bank Group, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Vancouver Lawn Tennis Club and many others across Canada involved in tennis.