Turns Out Major League Baseball Doesn't Own Stats, After All
from the strikeout dept
A few years ago, the folks at Major League Baseball Advanced Media, better known as MLB.com, decided that despite all copyright law to the contrary, they actually owned the rights to factual information about baseball games. One thing that is consistent in copyright law is that you cannot copyright facts. However, MLB.com tried all sorts of contortions to suggest that they did, in fact, own the facts — and no one else could use them. This came to a head earlier this year, when MLB.com refused to license official player names and stats to an online fantasy league. That league recognized that the players’ names and stats are factual information and forged ahead with its service — not paying baseball a dime. The company that provided the fantasy league, CBC, proactively filed a lawsuit asking for a declaratory judgment, knowing that MLB was likely to sue them. MLB’s response was to claim that it wasn’t really a copyright case at all, but about the right to publicity — and the right to control how others use your likeness. It seems that this defense has failed.
Richard was kind enough to submit that the federal court hearing the case has sided with the fantasy league, saying they can continue to use the names and stats, since they’re in the public domain and there is no violation of the right of publicity. The court noted that there is no indication that CBC is using the names and stats to suggest these players “endorse” or are associated with the fantasy league. Also, there’s no commercial harm to the players. As the court notes, if anything, “this case actually enhances the marketability of the players.” The court notes that, even if the right of publicity were violated, the First Amendment would protect the use of this data, because it is “historical fact,” and just because CBC makes money on their service, it does not take away their First Amendment rights. Finally, the court also notes (once again) the point that facts are not copyrightable. In other words, MLB lost this case on every single argument. What will be interesting is to see the fallout from this decision. Will other fantasy leagues stop paying as well? Also, baseball (and other sports) have made a lucrative practice out of licensing such information to video game makers as well — and it seems likely this ruling would apply to them as well. Of course, if MLB were smart, they would view this as a good thing. Getting more real info about real players out there in fantasy and video games should lead to more fans and more interest in the overall sport — leading to many more opportunities to make money.