Earlier this year, we noted the latest in a long line of what appeared to be questionable lawsuits that Major League Baseball Advanced Media (usually just called mlb.com) was getting involved with. A few years ago, baseball claimed that only those who bought licenses could post game data online -- which seemed silly. After all, game data is factual information, and you can't copyright facts. Besides, how would they deal with someone just sitting at the game and typing up what happens? However, the lawsuit from earlier this year raised even more questions. It's about a fantasy sports service that was getting squeezed out by MLB and decided that there was nothing illegal about continuing to post players' names and stats -- as those seemed like facts that no one could own. At the time, we pointed out (again) that you can't copyright facts, and that MLB was clearly just being greedy. It appears the NY Times has finally caught up to the story, but includes more details on how MLB is planning to get around the "you can't copyright facts" point. They're going to focus, instead, on the fact that this isn't a publication, but a service -- claiming that it's not an issue of copyrights at all, but of the "right of publicity," which generally means if you're famous, people can't get rich off of selling your likeness in any manner without your permission. This opens up quite the Pandora's Box of problems (hence this case), and it's not entirely clear why there needs to be such a right of publicity, when it sounds like most situations where there would be problems could be covered by existing trademark and (potentially) copyright laws. Still, what it really comes down to is that this is a bad business decision for Major League Baseball. What they're trying to do is maximize short-term profits by selling these licenses at the expense of long-term viability. Fantasy baseball has helped rejuvenate the sport by getting many more people interested in the game -- getting them to watch televised games and go to the park, as well as buy various MLB merchandise. It's a huge promotion for the game of baseball and its players. And, in the interest of the short-term buck, MLB is trying to charge companies to help them promote their product.
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