Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Celebrity Rights, Copyrightable Facts And Baseball...

from the legal-question dept

Earlier this year, we noted the latest in a long line of what appeared to be questionable lawsuits that Major League Baseball Advanced Media (usually just called was getting involved with. A few years ago, baseball claimed that only those who bought licenses could post game data online -- which seemed silly. After all, game data is factual information, and you can't copyright facts. Besides, how would they deal with someone just sitting at the game and typing up what happens? However, the lawsuit from earlier this year raised even more questions. It's about a fantasy sports service that was getting squeezed out by MLB and decided that there was nothing illegal about continuing to post players' names and stats -- as those seemed like facts that no one could own. At the time, we pointed out (again) that you can't copyright facts, and that MLB was clearly just being greedy. It appears the NY Times has finally caught up to the story, but includes more details on how MLB is planning to get around the "you can't copyright facts" point. They're going to focus, instead, on the fact that this isn't a publication, but a service -- claiming that it's not an issue of copyrights at all, but of the "right of publicity," which generally means if you're famous, people can't get rich off of selling your likeness in any manner without your permission. This opens up quite the Pandora's Box of problems (hence this case), and it's not entirely clear why there needs to be such a right of publicity, when it sounds like most situations where there would be problems could be covered by existing trademark and (potentially) copyright laws. Still, what it really comes down to is that this is a bad business decision for Major League Baseball. What they're trying to do is maximize short-term profits by selling these licenses at the expense of long-term viability. Fantasy baseball has helped rejuvenate the sport by getting many more people interested in the game -- getting them to watch televised games and go to the park, as well as buy various MLB merchandise. It's a huge promotion for the game of baseball and its players. And, in the interest of the short-term buck, MLB is trying to charge companies to help them promote their product.

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  • identicon
    Exiled From the mainstream, 16 May 2006 @ 4:34am

    Yay Retarded kids!!

    And I thought the music industry was making bad calls. This is just insane. This will be a PR nightmare if they get sued, or even something simple as a blog could ignite it. Its like blowing embers in a fireworks shed!

    Let me ask you Mike, why do folks always seem to fixate on short-term profits instead of looking at least slightly at the long-term? I mean. In a way every long running company or industry is like this, and with the internet looking like the end of the world to them. And thus they seem to want to kill it or outright control it entirely. Which is close to impossible since it spans the ENTIRE world. Try unclogging a toilet with your hands. You'll smell like **** and probably wont unclog the toilet unless you spent the entire day.

    Eh, not outta high school and I can tell this is bad. Ya think they'd notice if I could notice...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin, 16 May 2006 @ 5:38am

    They're figure out how bad this idea is

    When the fantasy league in question wins their court case everybody who was "licensing" data from will stop, and they'll see a substantial revenue hit. Then they're figure out how bad the idea is. Maybe at that point they'll figure out that they need to create some sort of extra value for their licensees and try to retain them.

    The whole "right of publicity" argument is a joke. Otherwise Las Vegas bookies wouldn't be allowed to make money from gambling on sporting events, the Academy Awards, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    papillion, 16 May 2006 @ 6:58am


    Baseball is a big part of our family history. But baseball players and owners showed me years ago they were no longer interesred in the fan, I stopped watching or keeping up. BYE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Me, 16 May 2006 @ 7:02am

    It will also break the nightly news & the sports c

    Given that a sizable portion of the nightly broadcast is a sports wrap-up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Java, 16 May 2006 @ 8:44am

    What about RSS feeds, news broadcasts, Subscription news services? These are all examples of services that provide stats, content, etc.

    Does this mean that the news of any baseball events cannot be provided since they are profiting from my subscription?

    I hope MLB fails miserably in their efforts. This is a complete farce and I hope if backfires!

    Ticket prices at sporting events are out of control, saleries, license fees, etc. is insane. Now they want a share of the profits from companies providing services?

    Boycott baseball I say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dennis parrott, 16 May 2006 @ 8:55am

    ...this is really just another part of bigger move

    there seems to be a general lack of respect for Customers these days on the part of the muttonheads who (mis-)run Big Business these days. what i see happening here with baseball and in Hollywood and the "music industry" is poor treatment of the Customer because the owners/managers of Big Business think that we are their private cash cows to be milked at will in any manner they see fit and we should all just stand there like cows knee-deep in a mucky pasture and love "The Experience" (...of having our wallets hoovered by people who already overrewarded for their supposed "contributions to the bottom line"...). since these slobs also spend the $$$ to get license from congress (DMCA, copyright term extensions, etc. ad nauseum) to guarantee their old, broken business models we will be those cows...

    you see, what they think in MLB is "why are those bozos making money off of our product? that is OUR MONEY!!!" so they are going to whine, pout and drag some fairly small guys into their bought-and-paid-for courts to force them out of business and then MLB will roll out their crappy fantasy baseball site...which you will pay for, which you will get tons of spam from, which will subject you to endless commercials when you use it, which will treat you like some mindless cash cow standing knee-deep in the mucky pasture (...and don't think about mooing for help, Brownie... nobody will hear you...)

    MLB will make a mess of it and piss off their customers again just like the NHL did last season. frankly, the way that congress has marched to the tune of the power blocs that have bought and paid for it we'd all better get organized or start learning how to go "moooo"....

    your pal, the cow who hopes to become "certified Angus" in hopes of avoiding the pain of being "milked" continuously....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Scott, 16 May 2006 @ 8:58am

    More Legal Geniuses

    This reminds me of Paramount suing Star Trek fan clubs for using the name "Star Trek." We can all see how that helped increase its popularity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Some IT Bastard, 16 May 2006 @ 9:48am

    Making it Hard

    MLB has sure made it hard to be a fan. I don't even play fantasy baseball and this bothers me.

    Does the MLB not want me to watch games, buy tickets, hats, etc.? Do they have too many fans right now and need to filter some of us out?

    I have played fantasy basketball and football before. My only positive I took from those games were it really made me want to watch games that I normally wouldn't because I had a player on some team I did not follow, but I wanted to see how well he played on any given night.

    I know the MLB has some cellar dwelling teams that people in thier home town don't even watch, but I bet if I had some 3rd baseman on the Brewers, I would watch the game to see how well he played.

    That in return makes the MLB money. If people watch games, they sell tv rights. If a lot of people watch, they charge more, because commercials cost so forth.

    They must have too many fans...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tashi, 16 May 2006 @ 9:54am

    Maybe they know something they're not telling, such as baseball is dying a slow death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2006 @ 10:00am

    I want to draft Derek Feter, and Alex Rodriguo .. thanks MLB

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Abbot, 16 May 2006 @ 10:01am

    Who's on First

    Who shuts out I don't know in the bottom of 10th when Naturally smacks it out of the park.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sean Brody, 16 May 2006 @ 10:41am

    Try this one on for size.

    Techdirt has no right to report this story. MLB owns the rights of publicity on their lawsuits and other random stupidity. In fact, Techdirt is in complete violation of the right of publicity. What right does Techdirt have to draw traffic to their site by using news and information from other companies without paying for publicity rights?

    I can see a wave of such stupidity becoming commonplace as every news blog and indeed news sources themselves get sued for rights of publicity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bob, 16 May 2006 @ 1:17pm


    ... Nobody talk about anything without prior consent of the publicist in charge of the person for whom the anything pertains.

    Hmm. If a person has a right to his own publicity, does a company, which has no such rights (in the sense that it is not afforded protections under the Declaration of Independence) to happiness or privacy, have a right to control what people say about them in the blogoshere, or on a street corner? What if I watch a game and then stand out on a busy street corner at lunch hour and evangelize MLB stats? Will big Baseball pull up ina big black limo and abduct me for publicity violations?

    Effing morons. I don't even watch sports, really. Maybe a live hockey game at the local rink, but on SB Sunday, I'm at the amusement park taking advantage of shorter lines for rides.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    itchyfish, 17 May 2006 @ 1:43pm

    What happens if MLB wins?

    What kind of precident is going to be set if MLB wins? If they do, I might just line up every financial institution in the US for illegally using my data to offer me credit cards etc. Then I'll line up the credit reporting services for selling my financial data to others. Maybe I'll force the Post Office to "license" my address. And ad naseum for every other piece of factual data I generate.

    Am I "famous"? What's the definition for that? If literally thousands of businesses have my name, then obviously a lot of people know who I am. I could make the claim that I'm "famous". It could really be a very interesting test. If MLB wins, they might do us all a favor and give complete privacy rights to every single citizen on the planet. I'd be willing to sacrifice fantasy league baseball for that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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