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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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 24 Oct 2003 @ 2:04pm

    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.

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