Major League Baseball Bullying Amateur Baseball In Trademark Shakedown

from the ip-abuse-is-a-gateway-crime dept

Major League Baseball continues to push the boundaries of what it thinks it has the right to control. For years, it’s been fighting a losing battle over the obviously false idea that it “owns” the stats and game descriptions of all major league games. Earlier this year, it began putting restrictions on how reporters could report on games. Reader Chris alerts us to its latest bullying effort, as it appears MLB still believes that it’s free to control just about anything that even touches Major League Baseball. The Cape Cod Baseball League is basically the premiere showcase of amateur baseball talent each summer. It’s where many of the best college players go to play to show off for scouts from major league teams — but it’s still an amateur event. Major League Baseball has donated about $100,000 to the Cape Cod League each year, but that’s only a small percent of the league’s $1.5 to $2 million operating budget (which itself is small, since much of the league is run by volunteers donating their time).

Yet, somehow, MLB thinks it owns the rights to things in the Cape Cod League and is demanding that the six (out of 10) teams in the league that use the names of Major League teams license the names — including buying all uniforms and merchandise through MLB itself, rather than the local vendors who have always supplied the league. Even worse, those local vendors who normally sold the uniforms and merchandise to the league were big sponsors of the league. Cutting them off may mean lost sponsorship as well. Clearly, MLB now thinks that it has total control over any team that has a name similar to Major League team, despite the fact that no one is going to confuse the Chatham A’s with the Oakland A’s or the Harwich Mariners with the Seattle Mariners. This would appear to be yet another abuse of trademark, and hopefully the Cape Cod League finds a lawyer who can explain to Major League Baseball the moron in a hurry test to prove that there’s no trademark violation. Hell, perhaps the moron in a hurry can be a pinch runner for one of the teams. I hear he’s fast…

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Comments on “Major League Baseball Bullying Amateur Baseball In Trademark Shakedown”

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Cygnus says:

Here, again, we are presented with a limited understanding of trademark law. Yes, one measure of infringement is likelihood of confusion of source of goods or services. Perhaps a moron in a hurry wouldn’t confuse the Harwich Mariners and the Seattle Mariners. Or, maybe he would since all that would be visible is Mariners baseball players.

However, that is not the full test. There is another component:

Trademark infringement results when there is a likelihood of confusion as to source or SPONSORSHIP.

Ah, so now here we are: there is a baseball team called the Harwich Mariners (presumably using the MLB Mariners’ logo). Is that team sponsored by the MLB team? A reasonable person could/would think the answer is yes.

DanC says:

Re: Re:

Is that team sponsored by the MLB team? A reasonable person could/would think the answer is yes.

A reasonable person would deduce that the team is associated with or is sponsored by MLB, rather than the specific team.

In any case, the Cape Cod league should just change the team names to avoid the hassle. It’s a shame that MLB feels the need to stoop to this level, especially since some players from the Cape Cod league make it to the pros.

Fred says:

Re: Source of Sponsorship

Yea, just like MLB sponsors the LSU Tigers, the Louisville Cardinals, or the East Carolina Pirates. And I wonder how much the NY Giants get from MLB, or the Arizona Cardinals. Where I really get confussed is how much MLB donates to the over 2000 high schools that share similar mascots (to long of a list). Since MLB owns the rights, I have a feeling it works the other way…MLB is trying to collect royalties from the high schools like they collect from youth leagues. I also wonder about the Blue Angles, Tiger Express, or Mariner Compass Co. I’ll bet they get sponsorships also.
Get Real!

GeorgeOP says:

It is clearly illegal to use those names without the permission of MLB. You may use the word “Mariner” all you want, but to call a baseball team by that name is not allowed. It doesn’t matter what “bad intentions” they have, it is still illegal. I may not have bad intentions, but I can’t call my blog CBSSportsLine and be surprised when someone tells me to change the name.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have to agree with some of the comments, to be honest.

MLB probably has a valid claim here. I, personally, would probably assume some link between the Harwich Mariners and the Seattle Mariners, and I assume that pretty much anyone not fanatically devoted to the sport would.

I still think it’s kind of stupid to essentially demand money from them. There has to be some other way of dealing with it. But on the flip-side, it’s kind of stupid for the Cape Cod league teams to use those names in the first place. Not only because it reeks of a lack of originality, but because there can’t be *any* reason for the decision other to try to feign some link to the “real” team.

For a children’s league or something, it makes sense. Kids wanting to emulate their favourite team or whatever. But for a league of adults, it’s just not right.

Mischa says:

Moron in a hurry

Well, that depends on who qualifies as a ‘moron in a hurry’. As someone who pays as little attention as possible to sports, I’ve heard of ‘the Mariners’ but didn’t know they were a baseball team. Unless I saw both names side-by-side, I would probably confuse them. Heck, someone could talk about the Mariners football team, assuming there was one, and I would confuse them. 🙂

Aaron says:

Another dissent

MLB teams pretty regularly name the teams in their lowest levels after the parent club specifically to create a link in the minds of fans who would otherwise never watch a bunch of 18-19 year-olds, the vast majority of whom will never advance much farther.
So seeing a team with a similar sounding name certainly does cause confusion if it’s not actually related to the more famous brand.
Like GeorgeOP said, I could probably create a widget manufacturing company called Delta, but I couldn’t create a small commuter airline called Delta.

Bud Selig's Ghost (user link) says:

Normally I don't use such harsh words in a comment

Here is a thought for Major League Baseball (and I won’t charge you to license the idea from me, either).
You FUCKIN’ greedy fuckers – stop being such GREEDY FUCKS!!!
Maybe then you’ll stop the hemorrhaging of fans who used to spend money on baseball related activities, but now spend their money with companies who are not blatantly greedy, penny-pinching, stingy, nickel-&-diming, brainless jerkoffs!

There…. boy….. that feels MUCH better.

Patrick Hogan says:

Cape Cod Baseball League

MLB’s attempt to squeeze the Cape League is a disgrace. Hundreds of former CCBL Alumni currently play in MLB. Its one of the few wooden bat leagues that gives scouts a chance to see how college phenoms perform with wooden bats. MLB revenue in 2007 was over 6 BILLION. To go after the CCBL sales of namesake teams is a disgrace. I’ve seen many Little Leagues have names like the Yankees, Red Sox et al whats next BUD are you gonna tell 10 years olds they have to use MLB trademark unies in Little League. This is a disgrace and all fans of the CCBL should boycott MLB products. By now I’m usually sporting my Tigers hat in anticipation of the coming season. But if MLB succeeds I will not buy their products. Rather than wear my Tiger cap I’m instead sporting my Chatham A’s hat and am telling every baseball fan I know to write the commissioner. My letter went out Tuesday morning. Send your letter to MLB 75 Ninth Ave 5th Floor New York, NY 10011 This is a disgrace and a clear case of the Big Bully trying to dictate to the little guy. WRITE THAT LETTER!!

Patrick Hogan Troy, NY

mike says:

team name infringements

i love baseball, and always will. i have no problems with never watching another pro game again if these freakin morons don’t put their lawyers to bed on crap like this. should atalnta pay royalties to indian tribes for stealing the word braves. dodgers should pay young english pick pockets for their name. it’s just a name and they should be thankful kids think enough of their teams to use the names. if they need that kind of trivial income to help pay their free agent salaries, then its time for me to tune out and go watch sandlot ball.

Coach Bud says:

Name Infringements

If major league baseball wants to exert its rights in such a trivial manner, shame on them. However it is within their right to do so under the rule of law. When I was a kid my little league team was named after our sponsor and not a major league team. Even when my kids played little league the team was named after the sponsors (eg: Rosee’s Filling Station, Charles Pharmacy, etc.) Perhaps a return to this format by the teams using MLB names would help their leagues attract more sponsors. If MLB wants to engage in what is obviously a really bad PR move then let it. I don’t think the kids care much what their team name is. In fact I know some kids who hate the fact that they play on a team named after a team they don’t like, for example a Red Sox fan playing on his local Yankee team.

Scott says:

I am not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding that when you have a trademark on something, you are under obligation to protect that trademark every time you are aware that it is being infringed on or else risk not being able to protect it when you want to. ie; you can’t selectively choose how to protect it. Now they could probably license it to the leagues for say $1, but that may also cause a situation where down the road there is someone using their trademarks in a way they dislike then they would be obligated to charge them no more than the going rate of $1 to license it to them, that I am not sure of.

Don’t get me wrong, I think MLB should do everything in their power these days to support and encourage youth baseball right up to the college level because lord knows they need every fan they can get. It is a disgrace what it costs to go to a MLB ballgame these days, especially the food at the parks.

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