January 16, 2006

Intellectual Property or Historical Facts(pdf): Major League Baseball clamps down on unlicensed purveyors of fantasy sports sites as they attempt to make certain that all baseball related revenue is generated by them. Now the courts will decide if it is news or commercial property.

posted by geekyguy to baseball at 04:15 AM - 22 comments

It's easy to dismiss this suit as a non-starter, but the issue is only going to get stickier as people find more and more ways to make money off the behemoth of big-business sports. I suspect this case will be thrown out, but not before it gets appealed up to to the Supreme Court. The precedent this is going to set is going to affect a lot of different laws, businesses and livelihoods (including, quite possibly, sites like Spofi) moving forward. That last link especially is excellent and thought-provoking reading.

posted by chicobangs at 04:57 AM on January 16, 2006

Let the lawyers figure out the bulls**t. Our only worry should be spring training. Phillies Phever!! Its catching!!

posted by GoBirds at 06:22 AM on January 16, 2006

This is an information society. Information storage and retrieval are big buisness. So is information theft. This is the begining or perhaps the continuance of an Orwelian type of information control. The greater the control of the information the more profitable the information for those who control it.COPYRIGHT2006-gronir_hitrops* * I will sue your ass!

posted by gronir_ hitrops at 06:53 AM on January 16, 2006

Fantasy sports wouldn't be a huge moneymaker for the pro leagues if unlicensed groups hadn't invented the games and made them popular. When I began playing fantasy football in the late-'80s, the NFL and its broadcasters actively expressed contempt for the game. Today, they run fantasy stats in a crawl during games. A judicial decision that game statistics are property would have effects beyond these games. Sites like baseball reference and the like would be hard-pressed to afford licenses for the increasingly rapacious Major League Baseball.

posted by rcade at 07:59 AM on January 16, 2006

A judicial decision that game statistics are property would have effects beyond these games. If I am given a baseball scorecard at Yankee Stadium, will I have to sign a non-disclosure waiver? or pay a Microsoft-like lisencesing fee? How about if I memorize statistical information from the game, then post it on my blog?

posted by gronir_ hitrops at 08:13 AM on January 16, 2006

They really want to have it both ways. The leagues want it to be news when they say its news and a product when they say it's a product. Trouble is that one goes against the other.

posted by mikelbyl at 08:15 AM on January 16, 2006

Sounds to me like MLB needs to join the fantasy game and offer something better than the existing fantasy sites, both in terms of information and winnings. It's sort of like a couple of years ago when musicians were complaining about file sharing killing the music industry, but now look at how many are peddling their songs through iTunes and the like. They stopped complaining, looked for a competitive advantage and found a way to benefit from the situation. I'm not a big fantasy participant -- I play in a family fantasy football league for bragging rights -- but the diehards out there might be willing to pony up some bucks for better information and a chance to win something the others can't (or haven't) offered. If you were a serious fantasy baseball player, wouldn't you drop $50 for a season of stats/services and a chance to win a couple of season tickets for your favorite team next season? Get creative, MLB and call off the attack dogs!

posted by gdvbranz at 08:44 AM on January 16, 2006

Baseball (and all sports, for that matter) can start claiming statistics belong to them, and only them, when they stop playing their sport in front of the public. When you invite (for a fee, of course) individuals to come and view what they are doing, they, in turn, seem to have agreed that anything that takes place at that point (stats) is/are co-owned by the team and the public. It wasn't too long ago, when fantasy sports were just starting to gain popularity, that the baseball league I was involved with collected our own stats and kept track of them. It was a hassle, but if I purchase a publication that prints box scores and daily/weekly statistics, I can do whatever I want with them. You can't perform for millions of viewers, both in person and via TV, radio, etc., then claim every number generated can only be used by Major League Baseball.

posted by dyams at 10:21 AM on January 16, 2006

If stats are exclusive right of the sport or team, than a fan that posts the box score from a game he attended would be in violation. Would the newspapers have to start paying the leagues for the right to list league leaders. How about when a local sports announcer makes hte comment that homerun leader so and so struck out twice. Is this in violation? I really can't see this getting out of appealate court.

posted by scottypup at 10:43 AM on January 16, 2006

Baseball seems to be concerned about everything other than the product on the field. I live for Spring and the reporting of pitchers and catchers, everything seems to be right with the world when that day comes. However, I'm growing tired of debates and battles being fought over matters that in the end will do nothing to improve the game. Instead of worrying about revenue for MLB, maybe worry about the revenues of ball clubs like the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and on and on...Personally, I'm tired of the Yankee-Red Sox thing (go Blue Jays!), I'm tired of the Atlanta Braves dominating the regular season and going out in the first round of the playoffs, and I'm not a Devil Rays fan but I'm sure the people of Tampa are tired of knowing they're team is mathematically eliminated before the season starts. Instead of hearing about steroids and licensing or whatever this latest battle is, I would LOVE to hear about creating parity. Make large market clubs share with small and middle markets--I'm a Cubs fan--they have a decent payroll and despite how much I've suffered over the years, I'd have no problem if they were forced to share with the league. It would be great to see the Royals play the Orioles, or the Brewers play the Pirates--and maybe, just maybe we'll hear about and see something other than Yankees vs. Red Sox and the Braves just taking up playoff space.

posted by barclen at 11:13 AM on January 16, 2006

Perhaps instead of trying to decide this matter, the courts could find that paying for fantasy leagues in hopes of a 'payoff' would be considered internet gambling, and therefore illegal, making this a moot point? And there you have it, MLB ruins it for everybody.

posted by njsk8r20 at 11:25 AM on January 16, 2006

re: Devil Rays. Yes, we are. But the great thing is I can still see my first team: the White Sox a couple of times a year. MLB owners are devils. There is no two ways about it.

posted by ?! at 12:26 PM on January 16, 2006

Make large market clubs share with small and middle markets In case you missed it, the Yankees just dropped $50 mil into the small market. I'm not well versed in the distribution scheme for that pot of gold, but I'm extremely sceptical about how much will go back onto the field. Giving money to small market owners does not, in itself, solve the problem -- there has to be some incentive given to spend it, and wisely. If you gave, say, Pittsburgh $20 mil, they'd probably pocket $15 and give the other $5 to Derek Bell. This is a hackneyed argument, I know, but I can't help but bring it back when I hear people shouting about the poor small market teams.

posted by BullpenPro at 07:02 PM on January 16, 2006

Phillies Phever!! Its catching!! You should visit a doctor. That's not healthy. give the other $5 to Derek Bell. Operation Shutdown now in it's 5th season! Actually, I think the real complaint by MLB is that the stats aren't necessarily the problem, it's the player's name attached to the stats. They own the rights to the player's name and likeness, and can decide when/how it appears. It's the reason you can't make a baseball video game with real players without paying a licensing fee to MLB. So it's not the "facts" that they want control of, but the names/teams associated with the facts. If you wanted to produce a database that had: Shortstop, New York - .309 .389 .450 then there is nothing they can do to stop you. If you wanted to produce a database that had: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees - .309 .389 .450 then MLB wants a piece of the action. I think MLB is shooting themselves in the foot with this legal procedure.

posted by grum@work at 07:13 PM on January 16, 2006

This is somewhat easy to defeat. You could easily take the MLB data and repost it with different coded values. You could then release a code reading key, that would reveal the true MLB values. They could then be accumilated for further evalulation for point distribution. This was how the early filters on Napster were defeated, although that didn't work out exactly as planned ! The copyrighting of the statistics would create an undergroud market for the fantasy leagues. they could operate off shore like a casino .

posted by gronir_ hitrops at 08:26 PM on January 16, 2006

gronir_hitrops, you are already covered, the bottom of every page at SportsFilter reads "All posts and comments are their original authors."

posted by geekyguy at 08:29 PM on January 16, 2006

isnt funny that everyone whines about all this stuff, but still go to the games? If you really want to make a statement to the owners, stay out of the stadium see how fast they cater to the "fans"

posted by MNJ1193 at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2006

So the only thing that anyone should do if they're upset by anything in MLB is to boycott? That has to be a joke. If fans stay out of the stadiums then MLB takes your team away after allowing it to be run into the ground for 10 years. This has been proven.

posted by mikelbyl at 10:33 PM on January 16, 2006

Don't know about this latest suit I do remember a few years back when they went after Little League Baseball because they named the teams after "BIG LEAGUE" teams what do you expect from a sport run by a bunch of greedy used car salesmen.

posted by thatch at 11:06 PM on January 16, 2006

what do you expect from a sport run by a bunch of greedy used car salesmen. ...and corporate bottomline profit whores?

posted by gronir_ hitrops at 05:35 AM on January 17, 2006

The key question that the court will decide is whether fantasy baseball providers are closer to newspaper reporters or baseball card manufacturers. For many years, Strat-o-matic baseball has paid baseball a licensing fee, while competitor Diamond Mind Baseball does not. MLB has never challenged Diamond Mind. I think the key difference between the two companies is that Strat produces player cards to use in their game, and those could be considered collectibles, while Diamond Mind is just a computer game and uses only player names and statistics - it very carefully avoided the use of team names or anything else that could be considered copyrightable. While the stakes are high for fantasy stats services, the stakes are far more high for MLB. There's a good reason MLB has never filed a case like this (here, they are being sued, not suing), and that's because they know that there is a good chance they will lose and they do not want to establish that precedent; they'd rather keep the issue undecided in the courts. So my guess is that this will never end up in court, because mlb has every reason to settle. Strat, by the way, has always printed cards for non-union players and other players who opt of the union's standard licensing deal without names or with false names, leaving gamers to figure out who's who based on the statistics. This is fine if you only have to do it for a few players, but I doubt it would work if you couldn't use any player names. This is, despite implications otherwise, not at all about the player statistics. MLB would certainly love to be able to copyright them, but the law is quite clear on that subject. It is just about the use of a player's name and the question of whether those names are being used to help sell the product in question.

posted by spira at 09:01 AM on January 17, 2006

Major League Baseball is the only organization that does nearly as much as the NFL to prevent its fans from enjoying the game. Hell, the NFL doesn't even allow ESPN.com to show highlights on ESPNmotion. Only interviews... because we all give a damn which athlete is uttering which cliche after the game. If you are out of your favorite team's market, forget it. No radio. No nothin'. Not without shelling out cash. Take for example how MLB has decided that only they have the right to broadcast games online. Nevermind that the local stations (like WBAL in Baltimore) are providing the on-air talent, the equipment, etc... And this is just the next step. MLB is run by idiots if they think this is going to help their cause in any sense of the world help. Fantasy baseball gets a lot of casual fans and one-club fans to watch multiple games (thereby driving up ratings and advertising revenues) that otherwise wouldn't. Wow, I am serious astounded at the idiocy that passes for leadership in sports businesses.

posted by ryleeys at 12:46 PM on January 18, 2006

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