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Media Companies Consider Suing MLB Over Reporting Restrictions

from the careful-with-that-antitrust-exemption dept

We've discussed how both Major League Baseball and the National Football League have convinced the press to live with restrictions on how they can report on games online. For rather obvious reasons, this seems troubling. While both are private organizations that can set up the terms by which they hand out press passes, you would think that the media, with its strong belief in a free press, would refuse to go along with any restrictions. The NY Times is now looking into the issue, noting that a big part of the problem is still that the leagues somehow think they "own" sports content. It also points out that part of the problem was in thinking that "video" is only done by television networks who pay tremendous sums for exclusive rights. So the leagues are afraid that reporters with camera phones will put those huge contracts in jeopardy.

However, hidden down towards the end of the article is one interesting tidbit. A bunch of big media companies are actively doing legal research in preparation for bringing these restrictions into court. Specifically, they're interested in targeting Major League Baseball -- which has a special exemption from antitrust law from Congress. The media companies may use these restrictions to suggest that MLB is abusing that right. While it would definitely make for an interesting lawsuit, it's still difficult to see how the activities are, by themselves, illegal. The team gets to decide who it gives out press passes too -- and that's where the restrictions come from. If the media refused to take press passes and reported on the team in other ways (including buying tickets to the game for reporters) then it could report however it wanted -- just with a lot less access. But if all the major media started boycotting the terms of access this way, you can bet that MLB and the NFL would back down quickly.

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  1. identicon
    N1ck0, 21 Apr 2008 @ 2:01pm

    Media companies have money

    Pssst. Media have money, an audience, broadcasting, and sports reporters, and many of you own stadiums & teams.

    If you don't like the NFL and MLB rules why bug congress. Just create your own league. I have a feeling you won't have problems securing television coverage.

    If news has been proven as entertainment, movies, and tv are...what is stopping you from getting into sports, its also an entertainment industry.

    Now the interesting thing is many of the largest media moguls also have ownership stakes in both the NFL and MLB. One would think it wouldn't be to hard to change the restrictions.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2008 @ 2:45pm

    Hats off to the New York Times. These sports leagues and their athletes think they are God's gift to humanity. It's about time somebody refues to play by their greedy rules.

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

  3. identicon
    Max Powers, 21 Apr 2008 @ 6:28pm

    I would love to see this in court

    Restricting access to report what happens during a sporting event (or before or after) is very un-American. The whole thing about MLB owning the stats concerning fantasy leauges is also stupid and I hope this whole thing comes back to bite them in the . . . . . butt.

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

  4. identicon
    John, 21 Apr 2008 @ 6:38pm

    though it would take a bit of planning, have all news outlets boycott MLB for 1 day and see MLB fold. Remember, if no one reports on an event, it never really happened.

    Explain that the boycott is a shot across the bow of all major sports that they better not pull the crap is trying to pull or they'll see what happens to their sport when it ceases to exist.

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

  5. icon
    Steve R. (profile), 22 Apr 2008 @ 6:57am

    Another Abuse of Copyright/Patent Law

    Content "owners" keep attempt to aggrandize their so-called property rights. If the MLB puts on a public performance they loose a degree of alleged "ownership" over that content. Those who watch/report on the event have a right to freely discuss/interpret what they saw. The same concept should also apply in patent law where a company such as Blue Jeans Cable is selling industry standard components, but is being accused of patent infringement.

    The purpose of copyright/patent law is to provide the content owner with a limited monopoly to foster innovation. Copyright/patent law seems to be no longer about innovation, but establishing a perpetual "toll booth" to extort money.

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

  6. identicon
    Fred, 22 Apr 2008 @ 7:47am

    Boycotts and lawsuits are lovely ideas, but the media needs baseball as much as MLB needs the media, and in the case of print media, probably needs MLB more than MLB needs them. MLB has outlets that are not going to care about the press restrictions, such as ESPN and Fox (which pay big bucks for the rights to games), along with its own properties. If the local paper loses access, however, its sports page becomes essentially worthless - who wants to read an account of some guy in the stands?

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

  7. identicon
    John, 22 Apr 2008 @ 10:50am

    Fred has a very valid point here.

    It would be impossible to convince all media to boycott the event. If just one company is willing to live with the restrictions then all must.

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

  8. identicon
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater, 27 Apr 2008 @ 12:33pm

    Baseball anti-trust exemption

    Just a quick nit to pick:

    MLB's antitrust exemption was not the result of a grant from Congress, but rather is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case Federal Baseball Club v. National League in 1922. As such, any attempt to overturn this exemption will have to come via the Federal courts.

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

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