Stephen Colbert Takes On MLB's Attempt To Bully Little Leaguers With Trademarks

from the trademark-isn't-ownership dept

For years, we’ve covered Major League Baseball’s ridiculous attempts to falsely claim that it has ownership of different aspects of the sport. It’s been on the losing side of court battles, repeatedly, but it just keeps pushing its luck. Earlier this year, we noted that MLB was bullying the Cape Cod League, which is considered the preeminent league where the best amateur kids get to compete against each other prior to the annual draft. The problem? The Cape Cod League had the temerity to buy uniforms from local providers, and to use (in just a few cases) names similar to major league teams, such as the Chatham A’s and the Harwich Mariners. Of course, no one’s going to confuse a team of amateur college players with the major league teams, but MLB demanded both a licensing fee and that the teams be required to buy from a much more expensive uniform supplier approved by MLB.

It appears that this was just the beginning. MLB is doing the same to an even younger group of kids: Little Leaguers in suburban Chicago — where the teams have similar names, but very different logos (further clarifying the lack of connection). I’m sure taking away the names they recognize will really get those kids interested in the sport. This is, as per MLB’s standards, incredibly shortsighted. MLB should be doing anything to build up fans — and one way to do that is to get kids to really identify with major league teams and players — and that means letting them use real names. I played Little League at that age, and kids are excited to play on teams with names similar to Major League teams. It certainly doesn’t take away from MLB in any way.

Of course, now that the Little Leaguers are involved, this story caught the attention of Stephen Colbert, who decided to give his own, unique, spin on the story (if you’re in an RSS reader, click through to see the video):

Some great lines from Colbert: “Those kids put trademarked names on their jerseys without paying. You know what we call that in this country? Theft!… You see, they don’t want this kind of criminality sullying the good things about baseball. These kids aren’t just stealing team names, they’re ripping off all kinds of stuff from the majors. Where do these kids get the idea of using a mitt? Or wearing a cup?” He then goes on to take it to the logical extreme, explaining why the press should stop mentioned Major League Baseball altogether to avoid infringing.

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Comments on “Stephen Colbert Takes On MLB's Attempt To Bully Little Leaguers With Trademarks”

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Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

So sad how far baseball has fallen...

My only son knows little of baseball, I know so much.

MLB (can I write MLB without infringement?) continues to sue anyone who is interested in “The Game”. There is a similar court case about Fantasy Baseball web sites.

It is as if MLB is only worried about people who are truly interested in Baseball.
If MLB continues they may get “Metallica-ed” (see previous Techdirt article).

so sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So sad how far baseball has fallen...

It is as if MLB is only worried about people who are truly interested in Baseball.

If that was the case they’d be giving these little league teams free uniforms. The MLB is only interested in making money; their target market is the sponsor-product-consuming, couch potato who is too lazy to change the channel during commercials.

Now they’re looking to milk the low budget little leagues for using a similar name…nobody’s got any class anymore.

Hulser says:

Who is "MLB"?

In all of the news stories I see about the asinine tactics of Major League Baseball’s attempt to control every aspect of the game, it’s always just “MLB”, not a particular person. But is this kind of obstinate stupidity really a result of the collective management of MLB or are there certain individuals that can be singled out for ridicule? Is there an MLB “man behind the curtain” who has enough power to counter rational thought or is the whole organization really that messed up? (It’s easy enough to hide behind the “MLB” name, but what if Colbert was calling you out by name on his nationally televised show?)

some old guy says:

yup again

I use to be an avid baseball fan, but I abhor them now, and lost all interest in that “sport”.

MLB has already started the ball rolling as an IP bully, its only a matter of time before enough teams get fed up and start a new league. (I kinda hope that day comes, so I can be a fan again… as it is, my morals prevent me from being a fan of anything MLB) (user link) says:

Wow… I hate baseball even more than I did before reading this. Come on, MLB’s popularity has been in a pretty steady decline over the last decade or so. I would think the MLB would want to do whatever they can to get the young kids excited about it. Instead, little Timmy is going to find out that his team had to change it’s name to something else, or the big bad MLB was going to put his coach in jail. It isn’t like these little league games are stealing fans from the MLB, even if they used the same logo and names. But, then again… maybe they are. The little leagues are probably the only place you can find “clean” baseball players… LOL

DanC says:

Re: Stephen Colbert takes on MLB

You know Colbert is joking, right? He is just making a laugh or two on his show by using product advertising. So really, this story is pointless.

Making a joke and making a valid point are not mutually exclusive. He’s showing how ridiculous MLB’s position is by pushing it to the logical extreme and having a joke at their expense at the same time.

So really, the story does have a point.

Old Guy says:

Heard about the new NSYBL, its a great new idea for baseball

(Not on Steroids Yet Baseball League)

They’ve even added new terminology, since the term “home run” is soon to be copyrighted when a ball is hit over the wall it’s a “Clear”

Maybe MLB just needs to shut the f*ck up and worry about the fact that the sport has become one realllllly long bad joke.

Ann says:

Re: Screw baseball...

Hockey FTW!

I have to say, despite being an avid fan of baseball for the large majority of my life, hockey has definitely won me over after the sheer stupidity MLB is going through right now. Especially considering the local baseball team is the Giants, versus the perennial playoff contending Sharks.

The public at large has already been tired out by the steroids allegations and the overpaid players (Barry Zito, anyone?). MLB did not need to attack Little League, which has some of the most enjoyable baseball since the players are playing for the love of the game, and not multi-million dollar contracts.

John says:

For those that think MLB has become some really long bad joke, attendance records are being set during an economic recession, so the facts point otherwise. While I definitely disagree with the MLB, this is not going to cause anyone to stop watching the sport. It is still America’s past time. MLB just needs some new execs and a new commissioner who can embrace the fans rather than alienate them.

WolfWitch says:

Re: Huh?

You sure you aren’t confusing NASCAR with MLB? The stadium where I live can do with half the seats it was built with now, and for the few games I’ve paused long enough on to notice- the stands were half-empty. Attendance may be up for a few teams, but I doubt it is up nation-wide.

I do agree- they need new management, across the board. I don’t agree that it is “America’s past time”, or passtime, or whatever probably MLB trademarked name it is anymore. More like America’s Waste-of-Time. Baseball just isn’t “fun” anymore, and hasn’t been for many years.

Matt P says:

From Little League

A letter sent out from Little League yesterday:

May 29, 2008

Dear Little League District Administrators, District Staff, League Presidents and Officials:

Recently, we have received some inquiries at Little League International asking for advice on the use of trademarked names and logos, particularly those of Major League Baseball teams.

For more than six decades, Little Leagues have used the names of Major League Baseball teams. That tradition continues today, and will continue for many years to come. Major League Baseball has never restricted any Little League teams from calling themselves “Mets,” “Yankees,” “Cardinals,” “Angels,” or any of its other trademarked names.

However, we also recognize the importance to Major League Baseball of the protection of its trademarks. It is incumbent on any organization, Little League included, to protect its trademarks. To fail to do so can result in those valuable trademarks being lost.

We strongly encourage our leagues who wish to place any trademarked names on a uniform item, including those of Major League Baseball clubs, to use only those items authorized and licensed by Major League Baseball.

It is important to note that unauthorized use of any trademark, including those belonging to Major League Baseball, may result in civil liability by the manufacturer of items bearing those trademarks. So if a local Little League uses shirts with unauthorized Major League Baseball trademarks will not be held liable, it is likely that the business that provided the shirts would be.

We hope this helps to clarify this issue for our local Little Leagues.

As always, thank you for your service to the children and families of your community.

Little League International

WolfWitch says:

Re: Regarding the letter from Little League International that was posted...

This was actually mentioned in one of the clips Colbert showed. The problem most little league teams have is in order to use a trademarked name- they HAVE to buy all of their uniforms from specific licensed suppliers (actually ONE supplier, according to the clip), who of course charge anywhere from 2-10x as much as non-licensed suppliers.

It’s still all about the money, at the expense of kids and families who can’t afford premium-priced uniforms.

I used to spend a lot of money going to local MLB games.
I lost interest in baseball years ago. The steroid scandal and now this have just reinforced my lack of interest.

Fred says:

Re: From Little League

Not true. If the Little League has the practice of giving the player the jersey at the end of the season as part of the sign up fee package; then this constitutes an act of commerce which makes the league liable and MLBP could legally pursue the league. Little League…..beware and be afraid….be very afraid.

jason (user link) says:

Another brick in the wall

MLB angered me with the strike back in the early 90s, and then again when they threatened to strike again about a decade or so ago. Now, I realize the players and the management are separate entities, but I group them together. They’re all greedy little jerks trying to squeeze every dime they can out of anybody.

I used to love watching the Braves, but I will never ever watch another major league baseball game as long as I live (unless they all agree to play for free and let everybody in for free).

Greg says:

I played little league as a kid. I was on teams with MLB team names (A’s, Pirates) and on a couple of teams with non-MLB names (Bombers, Pilots) and I really didn’t know the difference when I was 5, 6, 7 and 8 yrs old way back in the early 70’s.

I also used to watch baseball games.. until MLB had their strike(s) and rule changes to the all-star game, giving home field to the AS game winner instead of the team with the better record.

Bud Selig… you SUCK. And if you’re behind these attacks on LLBB and their team names, then I think I’ll get rid of any remaining vestiges of baseball in my house, except for my um-marred (read: unsigned by any player) glove.

Hank (user link) says:

MLB who?

MLB ceased to exist in my world when the players went on strike years ago. “oh, I only make $25M a year to play a sport instead of really working”. What a bunch of dumbasses!!

MLB will be broke within the next decade and Americans will dump all that extra cash into whoever woos them best.

Hey NFL, now is the time to start lowering prices on tickets and merchandise so you can edge out basketball and NASCAR before they get wise to what’s going on.

Coach George (profile) says:

The league that uses a small round ball-I don't want to use the trademark

This is great!
I wish the newscasters would refrain from using the official league name, or for that matter team names. Infact, ban the sport altogether.

The offical pro league that uses a small round ball is trying to damage it’s self almost as much as the official pro league that play’s on ice did. I say, let them.

How greedy and short sighted can they be?
Of course, once this gets enough play, they will have a large media event. Some jerk will get fired and the comish., will announce that it was all a big mis-understanding.

There is always Soccer.
Nuff Said

Pete Valle (user link) says:

Little League

When I was a kid, I played in the Little Leagues. My team’s name was Cubs. Guess what happened, since my team was named the Cubs, I became a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, even though I don’t live anywhere near Chicago. As an adult, I buy Cubs merchandise (I’m staring at my beloved Cubs cap right now) and tune in to the games, all of which generate cash to MLB.

If it weren’t for that childhood association, I would probably never have followed a MLB team, since where I live there is none.

Kids are impressionable, and some things stay with you forever. I’m sure those kids that are playing Chatham A’s and the Harwich Mariners will probably carry something with them for the rest of their lives, the fact that MLB forced their team to lose their identity. I don’t think that will create many MLB fans.

Ljlego says:

Sportsmen not doing a real job

I think it’s a fairly naive thing to say that professional athletes aren’t really working. Sure, they don’t have a job as an executive in an office, but they do work. It’s not easy to play a sport at that level of intensity. Asking them to do so for free is short-sighted and narrow-minded.

That being said, I think that Major League salaries have grown to such astronomical heights that it is ridiculous. Yes, it is difficult to do what they do. No, it is not so difficult that they need $100 million or they won’t touch the field.

Baseball bores me anyway. What’s the purpose of watching something that can be condensed to 1 minute of useful footage?

Boycott says:

Boycott the MLB.

Okay, like THAT would happen.

Stop buying the concessions at games. How long before the Hot Dog vendor starts crying foul?

I was involved in youth sports, and this is just plain stoopid thinking. Yes, let’s penalize the very people who pay your salaries.

1. Pay a licensing fee? We’ll change the name first.
2. Buy exclusively from a price-gouger? We’ll change the name first.

So, net result? MLB loses their foolish license fee, but also all of the ancillary income from the parents and grand-parents that do buy official MLB-wear to support their team. ie, not only do they not make MORE money, they actually LOSE money.

JustMe says:


MLB, you wanted attention? You got it. Nice job pushing around a bunch of kids. Don’t give me any BS about protecting your trademarks, we both know that isn’t required in this type of circumstance.

I guess it was only a matter of time, really. You clearly cannot control steroid use in your own players, so you find someone smaller to bully.

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