Once Again (With Feeling!): Court Tells Major League Baseball It Does Not Own Facts

from the real-names,-here-we-go... dept

Major League Baseball has been tilting at windmills for years, claiming ownership of facts -- even though facts cannot be covered by copyright. This resulted in a lawsuit over whether or not companies that provide fantasy baseball services online needed to pay MLB for a license to use player's names and stats. While such licenses have been very lucrative for MLB over the years, one popular fantasy baseball company, CBC, decided to stop paying the license and keep offering the service -- which resulted in the lawsuit. It didn't take long for the courts to tell MLB that it doesn't own facts and anyone is free to use stats and player names. Of course, rather than realizing that fantasy baseball helps promote the real thing, bringing in a lot more money to the league, MLB could only focus on the short term licenses it was about to lose, and appealed. This was a waste of everyone's time, because the law is quite clear and an appeals court has now ruled (again) that Major League Baseball does not own the names and data associated with the game and anyone is free to use that factual information for other things, such as fantasy baseball games. It's highly likely that the folks at MLB will appeal again, though it's equally likely that they'll get smacked down again. MLB had shifted strategies as these cases wore on, trying to get away from focusing on ownership of facts and claiming it was more about the "right to publicity," but the appeals court ruled that a right to publicity does not trump the First Amendment.


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    CoJeff, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 4:11pm

    Won't stop the MLB

    I was watching the Rockies game last night and before the game started the MLB said the usual, "This broadcast...blah blah blah." However I did notice they said something to the effect of may not use facts or basically anything you are about to watch without consent of the MLB.

     

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    nolamellen, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 4:42pm

    Well...

    If the fantasy league makes a profit, they are should be obligated to share in the cost of producing that which generates the profits - the games (i.e., licensing fee). If no profit is made, what would benefit the MLB to go after them? (Not a fantasy player - no idea how it works). The "facts" are a by-product of a lot of money.

     

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      Sean, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 4:59pm

      Re: Well... Facts are Facts

      By that logic techdirt should have to pay all the newspapers and other websites a royalty because they take facts from them and summarize them here.

      Facts are not covered under any copyright laws. The courts have said so time and time again. MLB just does not get it.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 4:57pm

    Here's a fact for the MLB. Baseball sucks! Teams are so uneven, the more money you have, you buy all the good players. Needs to be salary caps like the NFL. Also they need to banish players for using steroids and other drugs like many other professional sports do.

    Also have really gave a damn about baseball after they went on strike for more $$$$$ years ago, geeee they only make $150,000 a year, but want more for playing a game. Sounds like Congress doesn't it?

     

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      Mrrar, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 5:03pm

      Re: Congress, and other lack of nuance

      While congress goes on vacation quite a lot, this 'vacation' is, for most members of congress, occupied by them going through their districts, having town hall meetings, meeting with local interest groups, and so forth.

      You can't have it both ways. Do you want your congressman to represent your district, or to remain in Washington all year? Pause to think about it-- if they stayed 'at work' all year, then they'd be less a citizen of their district, and more a citizen of DC. It's a dichotomy that Lessig broaches on at times. Corrupt Washington politician, or local political hero. Can't be both.


      And as for Baseball.. To be fair, most baseball players, or any sports player, ends up burning out on their career after 10 to at most 20 years. Only the 99th percentile moves past 20 years. To expect them to take the salary of an engineer (like myself) for a span of career that would last only half the time.. That's pretty ridiculous. I do agree salaries should be capped, and asking for more than a few hundred thousand dollars is unrealistic.. But when you consider that there are only around 3 thousand people out of 6 billion who play in the Major Leagues, who have that talent.. That they are given special compensation isn't unreasonable.

      Nuance.

       

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      Loves America's Pastime, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 8:18pm

      Response to

      It's really easy to just buy all the good players to win the World Series. That's why the Rockies (#25/30) clinched the NLCS, and Cleveland (#22/30) is battling Boston (okay, #2/30, but still...) for the ALCS. And my Cubbies paid almost $100 million dollars (#8) to lose yet again.

      Regarding players getting $150K+/yr - they are the best at what they do in a _very_ competitive field. The market bears the price very well, and they deserve to be compensated for the risk (not all little boys who want to play MLB get to), the talent, and the hard work that it takes to get where they are. They're paid well, but they're stars, and the masses have loved their athletes since back in the days of the gladiators. Deal with it. (Or don't, but don't waste your time crying about it.)

       

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    Greg, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 5:22pm

    Madden NFL liscence invalid?

    does this case mean that the video game licensing deals like EA's exclusivity contract with the NFL Players association is are invalid? Or, that the deal 2K has with MLB is invalid? It seems like the judge quite clearly said that anyone can use player names, so could this mean ESPN 2K football could return or EA's (superior) MLB games could once again be made?

     

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      Mrrar, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 5:33pm

      Re: Madden NFL liscence invalid?

      I think you can't use someone's likeness without their permission, and that likeness permission may be transferred to the NFL upon signing of a contract. Just a hunch.

       

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        Mossback, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 6:11pm

        Re: Re: Madden NFL liscence invalid?

        Exactly. Using stats from historical games is one thing. But the licenses for the likes of Madden cover player images, team names, team logos, league logos and the like. Those are all protected.

         

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    Harry, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 7:47pm

    Another example

    Of where baseball is simply behind the NFL as far as marketing goes. The NFL saw early on that Fantasy would be a boon for them and embraced it. Fantasy Football has helped make *every* game marketable in some sense, no matter how bad the match-up is.

    The other side note from this is, I guess Barry Bonds* will now need to allow Fantasy baseball services to use his name again.

     

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    Willton, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 9:12pm

    Cap is anti-competitive

    To the person(s) that advocated getting a cap in baseball, I implore you to read this article:

    Here's the problem with a payroll cap: it removes the economic incentive to win. By forcing a team to spend less on its labor, it increases the profit margin for that team. Thus, it allows teams to not try and make more money by attempting to reach the playoffs (which is where the real revenue comes from) and just be content with what they have. After all, if teams are guaranteed to make a certain amount of money, why bother spending money worrying about winning? We've already seen this with the current revenue-sharing system and how it has affected teams like the Pirates, who rake in loads of money from MLB's welfare system and refuse to spend it. It's bad enough as it is; I don't want to see that practice perpetuated around the league.

    The reason baseball players are compensated the way they are is because that's what the market is willing to pay them for their services. You may think that baseball players make a ton of money, but do you know who makes even more? The guy that signs the player's paycheck. I have no sympathy for team member owners who have to pay the large sums of money to baseball players. No one forced those owners to contract for those players' services.

     

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    RandomThoughts, Oct 17th, 2007 @ 6:46am

    OK, first off, I don't think (and neither does Mike Francessa) that fantasy sports actually bring more fans to the game. Actually it probably makes people less passionate about the game, because it eliminates team loyalty. Players become focused on individual players and their statistics, not the actual game.

    Second, Cub fans aside (we still have Wrigley) the minimum pay for a MLB ballplayer is much higher than $150K. Stop hating, I know teachers deserve more, and if they can serve up a 95 mph sinker, they too will get rich.

    Third, everyone keeps saying baseball is dead, funny thing is, more people went to the ballpark this year than ever. Reports of MLB's death are a bit premature.

    Finally (and having to do with this article) you can't control facts, but you can control images and the like. Some fantasy sites are pretty liberal with images, but I think MLB just wants a revenue stream from someone they really shouldn't get it from. Some of the sites have live scoring (although I doubt baseball does, but I just don't know) that probably get their info from ESPN, they probably have to pay for the live stats, but if they wanted to, they could just read the paper the next day and post the stats for free.

     

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