Baseball Still Insists It Owns Facts

from the let's-try-this-again dept

For years, we've noted that Major League Baseball seems to have a problem understanding basic copyright laws. MLB tried to say that it was illegal for anyone to offer real time data concerning games, even though you cannot copyright facts. In a similar case from nearly a decade ago, the NBA lost a lawsuit to Motorola, saying that there was no violation of copyright when Motorola sent basketball scores to pagers. However, MLB came back and said that argument only applied to scores, and not any other data. This is, of course, ridiculous. Data, such as statistics or a straight description of what's happening on the field is a fact which simply cannot be copyrighted. However, that's not stopping MLB -- and the further they push this, the bigger the risk that they lose some of their huge contracts. The latest lawsuit has to do with online fantasy leagues. MLB, in its short-sighted non-wisdom decided not to grant one fantasy baseball site the right to use MLB statistics. The company decided to do so anyway, leading to the latest lawsuit. Of course, if MLB loses, it means that no fantasy sites will have to pay -- and it raises a question about baseball video games as well. A year ago, MLB granted a mostly-exclusive license to Take-Two, for it to publish video games based on real MLB information. If the organization loses this fantasy case, some video game firms may claim that as long as they just offer "factual" information within their games, they should be able to do so without a license from MLB. Of course, the silliest part of all of this is that this move seems much more likely to hurt MLB than help it. Things like fantasy baseball have helped to rejuvenate the sport by building up a lot more interest in the sport. Trying to force every online fantasy league to pay up to them is doing more harm than good, cutting off one of the avenues to build up more fans (who will spend a ton on MLB products over a lifetime) in an effort to get a few extra dollars up front. It goes back to the issue of jealousy, and one organization being upset that another is making its product even more valuable, without paying up first.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    MadJo (profile), Jan 16th, 2006 @ 4:12am

    Corporations getting stupid or more vocal?

    Is it just me or are corporations becoming more stupid every day? Or is it just that they become more vocal?

     

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  2.  
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    dorpus, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 4:16am

    Like anyone cares about spectator sports?

    How many kids today want to spend hours passively watching a ball being flung around on a field?

    Sadistic parents have a new toy to give to children -- low-tech robots made out of wood. Can be purchased here.


     

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  3.  
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    m0u5y, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 4:48am

    Re: Like anyone cares about spectator sports?

    sign me up for one of those fact lawsuits. i want to make some easy money.

     

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  4.  
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    thecaptain, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 5:11am

    silver lining

    Hey, if they win (lessee...judge...big money vs little money...mmm likely win) someone can always use that precedent to make the case that PERSONAL information is copyrighted and sue all the marketting databases out there for big big bucks.

     

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  5.  
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    Jim F., Jan 16th, 2006 @ 5:42am

    Interesting to see this story here...

    I was one of the sites that got trampled on by MLB a few years ago, and as a daily tech dirt reader, I was happy to see this story here. I'm happy to see someone else sees MLBP for what they really are.

    -jim

     

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  6.  
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    CloakedMirror, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 6:04am

    Dealing with MLB

    I am one of those that has dealt with MLB in the past. As the head of software development, for a company that created software that was used by several MLB teams to capture said facts, I got to see first-hand how the MLB treats anyone outside their "good ole boy's club."

    When we dared to purchase the baseball.tv domain, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be allowed/licensed to broadcast MLB games or highlights. When we tried to publish only the data that we were gathering, we were threatened with lawsuits.

    In the end, our sales/marketing force (made up of former MLB players and coaches) never asked for checks for the software we provided and the company went under. It certainly was not the fault of MLB, but the attitude of the "good ole boy's club."

     

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  7.  
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    Thought Cancer, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 6:24am

    MLB just may be correct, legally...

    My first reaction was, "what morons! You can't copyright facts!"

    But they're not claiming to copyright facts. Have you ever watched an NFL game on TV? They always have this little 30 second spot during halftime that shows still pictures of football greats (Namath, Elway, Lombardi, etc) with a voice-over that basically says, "this broadcast is the sole property of the NFL, any descriptions or accounts of the this event without the express consent of the NFL is prohibited".

    Now, I'm not an attorney, but this is the line of reasoning that I think the NFL (and by extension, professional sports in the USA) are following: These events and everything that happens in them are our property. They are not public facts, but private events that you can pay a license fee to watch. If you want to let others, who have not paid to be included in this event, know about the occurences of the event, then you must pay us (the owners and propieters of the event) cold cash. If we, the owners, did not spend billions of dollars in player fees, stadiums, and all kinds of deals, there would be no statistics for you compile. We are not like a phone book, or the weather, or government meetings. We are private, for-profit, and every single aspect of this event that we put on must generate money for us. You wouldn't ask any other private company to give away its internal company statistics without consideration; we are no different.

    Now, do I agree with this? Absolutely not. But the way the law is written, MLB just may have a leg to stand on. If you don't like it, then you should buy yourself your own congresmen, like MLB has done, and have them pass laws on your behalf.

     

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  8.  
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    anon, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 6:36am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    When will we be able to buy Congressman on Ebay? That would at least be efficient and transparent.

     

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  9.  
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    ehrichweiss, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 6:56am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    That disclaimer is for the broadcast only, AKA performance rights. They actually don't have the right to stop you from describing the performance under most conditions.

    Even if that were the case, if someone went to every game and jotted down all the facts, nobody else could claim copyright on it. That would be akin to someone going to a concert and the performer saying you couldn't write about what you saw. While similar things have happened, they've always been tossed out of court because of the original arguement of the article: they're facts and facts cannot be copyrighted. If so every un-authorized biography of a celeb would be able to be prosecuted.

    Of course, you could just do the really disruptive thing and give the idiots what they deserve...bad stats but they seem to be doing that to the game itself right now.

     

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  10.  
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    Thomas, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 7:01am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    I think you may be confusing "Law" and "Legal disclaimer"
    I can put anything I want into a legal disclaimer, but if the contents are not within the bounds of the actual law then the disclaimer, or at least the illegal parts, are not enforcable.

     

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  11.  
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    Vasco DaGameboy, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 7:40am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    Interesting view, but by that logic, ANY sports reporting would infringe on MLB's IP ownership. Therefore, a lawyer could argue that since MLB does not require newspapers to pay for the privilege of reporting the scores and stats, that there is no valid claim here, which there really isn't. Fantasy Games owners could use some legal wrangling of their own to separate the stats and the game so that the stats fall under the umbrella of sports reporting, etc.

    This all smacks of the arrogance so readily exhibited by the record labels in the face of song swapping. Had the labels embraced the new technology, they would have a profitable model in place by now. Instead, they continue to sue high schoolers and bully single moms. Next thing you know, MLB will be rounding up 10 year olds who talk pitching averages with their friends.

     

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  12.  
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    Mousky, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 8:02am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    First, just because a corporate entity says something, like the voice over, does not make it true, correct or right. Second, statistics at a sporting event are not internal. They display the time and score, they announce penalties, they have numbers on the players jerseys, and so on. When you buy a ticket to a sporting event are you bound by a non-disclosure clause?

     

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  13.  
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    the Question mAn, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 8:44am

    Personally, I think that the jurisdiction should..

    disallow the commercial use of MLB scores. By Commercial, I mean used by a public or private business to encourage or advertise priced products. However, the private use of or advertising use of MLB scores for nonprofit products should be allowed. This protects the security and monoply of MLB while allowing individuals and organizations without a license to freely discuss these scores, ratings, etc.

     

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  14.  
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    jeff, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 8:57am

    heh

    Before, I didn't watch baseball because they refuse to play in the rain. Now I get to tell people I don't watch because it's a corrupt organization. Cool.

     

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  15.  
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    patentman, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 10:49am

    Re: Like anyone cares about spectator sports?

    "How many kids today want to spend hours passively watching a ball being flung around on a field?"

    I would argue that quite a few do. Have you been to a baseball game recently? There are kids everywhere! At least at the Washington Nationals games.

     

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  16.  
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    patentman, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 10:54am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    Thought Cancer

    There is a major difference between what you are describing and what the MLB is doing here. The 30 second spot you are talking about where the MLB says "this broadcast and its contents are produced by MLB... any unauthorized copying or distribution thereof without the express permission of MLB is unlawful...." is the MLB provioding notice that the "broacast" and the "public performance" of the baseball game over the air are copyrighted and owned by the MLB. Unlike factual data, i.e. stats, public performances and transmissions ARE copyrightable.

    Amazing, for once is looks like Mike has the law right. CONGRATS MIKE!

    One possible argument that the MLB might be trying to amke is that they own a copyright in the compilation of data that is MLB stats. However, this copyright would not extend to the facts themselves, but rather to their arrangement. I.e. if the MLB alweays puts ERA before strikeouts, before batting average against etc... that arrangement "might" be copyrightable, but I strongly doubt that the numbers themselves would be.

     

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  17.  
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    patentman, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 10:57am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    "Interesting view, but by that logic, ANY sports reporting would infringe on MLB's IP ownership."

    Your argument would apply to most radio broadcasts, but t.v. sportcasters, which reproduce clips of games and such ( Espn's "Webgems" comes to mind) usually (and should) have a negotiated license with MLB to reproduce and rebroadcast all or a certain portion of a game.

     

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  18.  
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    patentman, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 10:59am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    Oh, if anyone cares, the law that would cover most of this is 18 U.S.C. 106

     

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  19.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 16th, 2006 @ 11:17am

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    One possible argument that the MLB might be trying to amke is that they own a copyright in the compilation of data that is MLB stats. However, this copyright would not extend to the facts themselves, but rather to their arrangement. I.e. if the MLB alweays puts ERA before strikeouts, before batting average against etc... that arrangement "might" be copyrightable, but I strongly doubt that the numbers themselves would be.

    Ignoring your sarcasm at my understanding of the law, this last point you make is an important one, that I had wanted to mention, but seemed fairly specific for a short post. It's the Westlaw trick of copyrighting page numbers to try to monopolize the publishing of public domain legal decisions.

    However, with MLB stats there would be easy ways around this, as you note. So far, though, it doesn't seem like MLB has made this specific claim at all, though they may at a future time.

     

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  20.  
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    Mousky, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 11:29am

    No Subject Given

    When a business is in decline, it is only natural that it exerts more control on behaviour that it believes is detrimental to the bottom line. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), this usually leads to further decline. Instead of embracing customers (or fans), these business turn on their customers.

     

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  21.  
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    dorpus, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 4:07pm

    Re: Like anyone cares about spectator sports?

    >I would argue that quite a few do. Have you been to a baseball game recently? There are kids everywhere! At least at the Washington Nationals games.

    How many of them are there on their own will, as opposed to a father-son activity? From what I have heard in the U.S., major league sports are suffering declining attendance. In Japan, a recent "shocker" on TV had famous TV actors interviewing kids on how TV should be improved, and the kids all said that TV should stop showing stupid baseball games.

     

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  22.  
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    John, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Like anyone cares about spectator sports?

    > How many of them are there on their own will, as opposed to a father-son activity? From what I have heard in the U.S., major league sports are suffering declining attendance.

    Not hard to look up the actual figures online and see that baseball attendance is at record highs and seems to keep getting higher. It would appear that dorpus has a problem with facts.


    > In Japan, a recent "shocker" on TV had famous TV actors interviewing kids on how TV should be improved, and the kids all said that TV should stop showing stupid baseball games.

    Yeah, that's right. Judge the entire sport based on what a couple of kids said. Japanese baseball has struggled somewhat, but part of the reason is that many Japanese stars have moved to the US major leagues -- meaning that attention has been focused on US baseball more than the domestic variety.

     

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  23.  
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    Siam Nabib, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 6:58pm

    Camel Polo Enthusiast

    What is this "Base Ball" you people speak of?

     

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  24.  
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    J Price, Jan 16th, 2006 @ 10:52pm

    Re: MLB just may be correct, legally...

    Stop... When was the last time any major league team paid for a stadium? Taxpayers, cleaners, fool me once .. . .

     

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  25.  
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    Greg Andrew, Jan 17th, 2006 @ 8:35am

    No Subject Given

    This lawsuit is not about statistics, despiter all the AP articles that claim it is. It's about the "right of publicity" which major league baseball players have rearding the use of their names, photos, etc. The court will have to decide whether fantasy stats services are closer to baseball cards manufacturers or newspapers.
    Take two computer games, Strat-o-matic and Diamond Mind. Strat pays MLB for the use of the names, Diamond Mind doesn't. The difference appears to be that Strat produces player cards with which to play their games, and those cards could be considered collectibles. All Diamond Mind, which unlike Strat does not have a traditional game to go along with the computer version, does is use the players and their statistics, and they are very careful not to use any club names or anything that could be considered the legal property of major league baseball.
    Diamond Mind isn't exactly like CDM - everyone plays seasons from the past, not the current season, which might make some difference - but if Diamond Mind's interpretation of the law is correct, I think CDM will win the lawsuit.
    This is not a clear-cut case, but I'd definitely say that, based on the law, MLB has the weaker case. It's not a slam dunk for CDM, however. My guess is though, that this will never go to trial; MLB has far too much to lose to risk having a precedent set against them. There's a reason MLB has never sued anyone over this; instead they've tried bullying, blackmailing, etc.

     

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  26.  
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    haggie, Jan 17th, 2006 @ 11:34am

    No Subject Given

    I haven't met a fantasy baseball participant that wasn't a hen-pecked, pussy-whipped, kahki pants-wearing suburban loser. These guys can't whip up the excitement to bang their wives or even jerk off. They are reduced to a sports fantasy based on statistics. They make the chess club look like playas...

     

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  27.  
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    Carlos, Jan 18th, 2006 @ 7:07am

    No Subject Given

    I think that MLB is technically correct in its stance but a win may be like shooting yourself in the foot. Shutting down a fairly insignificant part of the overall baseball business would just anger quite a large number of fans.

    But the real key here isn't MLB/baseball. Fantasy baseball is certainly played, but it pales in size to fantasy football. Should MLB win, could the NFL be far behind?

    I don't think they would since the NFL's business model has made it the single most successful sports league in the U.S., likely in the world. Only fantasy players would have watched the week 17 "match up" between Houston and San Francisco. Without fantasy, we just revert back to only watching the game of our favorite team.

     

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  28.  
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    John Alden, Aug 8th, 2006 @ 11:29am

    New Flash

    CDM wins on ALL counts. Just posted in St. Louis!

     

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  29.  
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    John Alden, Aug 8th, 2006 @ 11:29am

    New Flash

    CDM wins on ALL counts. Just posted in St. Louis!

     

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