Major league baseball has some bad, bad lawyers

The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is about to get into a legal war with fantasy baseball: A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers’ batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is about to get into a legal war with fantasy baseball: A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers' batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold. In a lawsuit that could affect the pastime of an estimated 16 million people, CBC Distribution and Marketing wants the judge to stop Major League Baseball from requiring a license to use the statistics. The company claims baseball statistics become historical facts as soon as the game is over, so it shouldn't have to pay for the right to use them.... CBC, which has run the CDM Fantasy Sports leagues since 1992, sued baseball last year after it took over the rights to the statistics and profiles from the Major League Baseball Players Association and declined to grant the company a new license. Before the shift, CBC had been paying the players' association 9 percent of gross royalties. But in January 2005, Major League Baseball announced a $50 million agreement with the players' association giving baseball exclusive rights to license statistics.... Major League Baseball has claimed that intellectual property law makes it illegal for fantasy league operators to "commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles" of big league players.... Ben Clark, a St. Louis attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights, said a win by Major League Baseball could "send a shudder through the entire fantasy industry," he said. On the other hand, he said, it stands to lose the rights to any royalties for use of statistics. "You just wonder whether it's a fight Major League Baseball wants to have," he said. I find it hard to believe that MLB could win this in court -- and the PR backlash from going after fantasy baseball operators isn't going to win them any plaudits either. Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto has some useful links, including this nugget of information that appears to completely undercut MLB's case: IP lawyer Kent Goss is quoted as citing an interesting 2001 case in which MLB themselves claimed that player names and statistics were (as far as I can interpret) both in the public domain and free for others to profit from, and the California Court of Appeal upheld MLB's right to use the names and stats of historical players. "A group of former players sued MLB for printing their names and stats in game programs, claiming their rights to publicity were violated," Goss said. "But the court held that they were historical facts, part of baseball history, and MLB had a right to use them. Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal. App. 4th 400 (2001)."In other words, five years ago MLB was making the opposite argument of what it's saying now. This leads me to a question I can't answer -- what on earth prompted baseball to adopt such a hard-line position on an issue it knows it probably can't win in the courts?

The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is about to get into a legal war with fantasy baseball:

A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers’ batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold. In a lawsuit that could affect the pastime of an estimated 16 million people, CBC Distribution and Marketing wants the judge to stop Major League Baseball from requiring a license to use the statistics. The company claims baseball statistics become historical facts as soon as the game is over, so it shouldn’t have to pay for the right to use them…. CBC, which has run the CDM Fantasy Sports leagues since 1992, sued baseball last year after it took over the rights to the statistics and profiles from the Major League Baseball Players Association and declined to grant the company a new license. Before the shift, CBC had been paying the players’ association 9 percent of gross royalties. But in January 2005, Major League Baseball announced a $50 million agreement with the players’ association giving baseball exclusive rights to license statistics…. Major League Baseball has claimed that intellectual property law makes it illegal for fantasy league operators to “commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles” of big league players…. Ben Clark, a St. Louis attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights, said a win by Major League Baseball could “send a shudder through the entire fantasy industry,” he said. On the other hand, he said, it stands to lose the rights to any royalties for use of statistics. “You just wonder whether it’s a fight Major League Baseball wants to have,” he said.

I find it hard to believe that MLB could win this in court — and the PR backlash from going after fantasy baseball operators isn’t going to win them any plaudits either. Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto has some useful links, including this nugget of information that appears to completely undercut MLB’s case:

IP lawyer Kent Goss is quoted as citing an interesting 2001 case in which MLB themselves claimed that player names and statistics were (as far as I can interpret) both in the public domain and free for others to profit from, and the California Court of Appeal upheld MLB’s right to use the names and stats of historical players. “A group of former players sued MLB for printing their names and stats in game programs, claiming their rights to publicity were violated,” Goss said. “But the court held that they were historical facts, part of baseball history, and MLB had a right to use them. Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal. App. 4th 400 (2001).”

In other words, five years ago MLB was making the opposite argument of what it’s saying now. This leads me to a question I can’t answer — what on earth prompted baseball to adopt such a hard-line position on an issue it knows it probably can’t win in the courts?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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