Major League Baseball Claims Ownership Of Game Description

from the seems-a-bit-questionable... dept

If you’re watching the World Series these days, you’re used to hearing the familiar refrain towards the end of the broadcast that no “rebroadcast or retransmission” is allowed “without expressed written consent”. You probably assumed that referred to the video broadcast and the announcer commentary. It turns out that Major League Baseball actually thinks this refers to any data about the game. During the baseball season I like to follow games online. I listen to MLB’s streaming audio package, but I also have real-time game data flowing in a browser. There are plenty of different options, from Yahoo to ESPN to Sportsline to MLB’s site itself. Each has a slightly different setup for displaying the data and what’s happening on the field – and some are much better than others. I’ve found, for instance, that I prefer Sportsline’s real time information and display the best, as it gives me the most relevant information for me. I used to use MLB’s, but they started to broadcast their own commercials in between innings. When you’re listening to the game on streaming audio – which has its own commercials – and then the data site has its commercial play on top of it, it’s quite annoying and disconcerting. Besides, Sportsline just organizes their info in a better way, in my opinion. Of course, they might not be able to do so any more, since MLB is now claiming that they own the rights to this data, and Sportsline (or anyone else) showing the real-time info is, in effect, “rebroadcasting” the game. This certainly seems to stretch the definition of intellectual property. If I’m sitting at a game, and happen to use my mobile phone to call a friend and tell him what’s happening, is that “rebroadcasting” the game? It would seem that rebroadcasting or retransmitting would require someone to actually take the specific video or audio feed that MLB puts out and reuse it. Of course, a similar case suggests MLB may have some difficulties if they pursue this strategy. In 1997 a court ruled in favor of Motorola in a case against the NBA. Motorola was sending real-time game info to pagers, and the NBA wanted it stopped. The court ruled that certain information, while included in a copyrighted broadcast, could remain uncopyrighted by itself – such as the data associated with a game.


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Comments on “Major League Baseball Claims Ownership Of Game Description”

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9 Comments
LittleW0lf says:

Re: No Subject Given

Isn’t this a no brainer? You can’t copyright facts. Game data consists of facts.

Yes and no. IANAL (but I hang around with enough of them to know that this is not the whole truth.) Yes, you cannot copyright a “fact” (actually, you can, but you would have a lousy time defending that copyright in court.) However, you can copyright the form or presentation of those facts.

If someone else uses the same form or presentation of those facts, and it can be shown in court that they copied that form or presentation, they may loose. It is like a work in the public domain. You cannot legally copyright a work which has been placed in the public domain (Shakespear, the Bible, etc.), but you can copyright the format and presentation of that work (hence the copyright on a Shakespear or the Bible you may have at home.)

However, in the current legal system, unless you have more money and are willing to spend that money defending yourself against MLB’s threats, you are likely to loose (which is what, in my opinion, is fundamentally wrong with the current system…)

Frank says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

IAAL. Well, I’ve never practiced copyright law, but I’ll still agree with that post. Another example would be phone numbers being data that are not copyrighted. However, I used to work for a publishing company that would organize the phone numbers into distinct categories like the yellow pages, and throw in fax numbers and web page URL’s. Then it became a value-added directory, and could be copyrighted. So copying all the stats in the exact order that they’re listed in the club’s web site could be a violation. Rearrange them and add your own commentary and you’re fine 😉

Beck says:

They Own it All

MLB has sold the rights to use player statistics to a company, and if you want to use the statistics you need to pay a license fee. A few years ago a baseball simulation game that we use could no longer send out player stat updates because they would have to pay a fee for their use.

On a somewhat semi-related note, when a company is giving away a trip to the Super Bowl have you noticed that the radio commercials never refer to it the game by name, they always call it something like “Football’s Big Game in February”. Is it some type of copyright or trademark violation to mention the name of the game? The same thing happens with the Pro Bowl, they say that they are giving away a trip to the “Football All Star Game in Hawaii”.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: They Own it All

Knowing a little bit about the baseball video game market (as a consumer, mostly, but I’ve spoken with folks who work on them), I’ve heard that it’s perfectly okay to use stats… but not to associate them with names. In other words, it’s legal to create fake named players, who have the same real stats of actual players.

Games that want to use real player names have to license them, but not from MLB, but from the MLB Player’s Association – and that comes with a number of limitations. For instance, they don’t allow games that use player names to also have salary systems. They can use some sort of “point” system for fake salaries, but can’t use real dollar amounts. Also, as a result of this, players who are not in the baseball player’s union (some just don’t join, others aren’t allowed because they were “replacement” players during the strike a decade ago) can’t have their names licnesed along with the others.

So, at least with the one baseball video game that I play most often, it comes with all fake players – but has real player stats, and it’s easy enough to figure out who’s who. At the same time, plenty of people have created downloadable rosters that have all the players and stats, and I believe that MLB can’t do anything about that, since it’s all factual information. I’m not sure if anyone could actually *sell* those rosters, but creating them seems to be legal.

Of course, all of this is talking to developers and not lawyers, so who knows how accurate it is.

LittleW0lf says:

Re: Re: They Own it All

Of course, all of this is talking to developers and not lawyers, so who knows how accurate it is.

There is one golden truth about lawyers (present company may be excepted,) I’ve learned over my years, lawyers are usually all talk (not that this is a bad thing, I really enjoy the discussions I do have with them, and I am not a lawyer basher…), but when you corner them on a particular issue, they throw out their legal disclaimers…and usually give you an answer like “well, you could do that, but I don’t think I would.”

So in most cases, if you corner a lawyer on this, they will likely advise you against playing around with the MLB/NBA/NFL if you don’t have a large amount of expendable capital to hire them to protect you…The developers, on the other hand, may be far more idealistic, but I think they also tend to know more about what they can and can not get away with.

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