Judge: Fantasy baseball leagues entitled to stats

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

MLB loses its bid to claim intellectual property of players' records and bios.

ST. LOUIS -- Statistics generated for fantasy baseball leagues are fair game in the public domain, not the intellectual property of Major League Baseball, a St. Louis judge ruled Tuesday.

St. Louis-based CBC Distribution and Marketing Inc. filed the lawsuit against MLB after CBC was denied a new licensing agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association for the rights to player profiles and statistics.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Medler ruled in the 49-page summary judgment that baseball and its players had no right of publicity to their names and playing records, as they had claimed.

Even if the players could claim the right of publicity to protect their names and information from commercial ventures by others, she wrote, the First Amendment takes precedent because CBC, which runs CDM Fantasy Sports, is disseminating the same statistical information found in newspapers every day.

"The names and playing records of Major League baseball players as used in CBC's fantasy games are not copyrightable," Medler wrote. "Therefore, federal copyright law does not pre-empt the players' claimed right of publicity."

Baseball's refusal to give CBC a contract for the 2005 season came as the league was making exclusive statistics licensing agreements in the fantasy sports marketplace that has grown to more than 15 million fantasy sport players.

CBC has operated sports fantasy products and leagues under its brand name CDM Fantasy Sports since 1992.

Rudy Telscher, who represents the St. Louis firm sued by MLB last year, said both sides had asked for a summary judgment before the case is scheduled to go to trial next month.

"Once you've won this here the odds are really good for us when MLB appeals," Telscher said. "I think once this issue is decide by an appellate court it's unlikely that other sports will try to take this to the court again."

Major League Baseball claimed that intellectual property laws and so-called "right of publicity" make it illegal for fantasy leagues to make money off the identities and statistical numbers produces by professional players.

A spokesman for the league did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The ruling brings a momentary sigh of relief to more than 300 fantasy businesses that run online leagues and have awaited the outcome of the lawsuit.

Like many other fantasy baseball leagues, CBC had a licensing agreement with the MLBPA from 1995 through the 2004 season and paid 9 percent of gross royalties to the association. The company now believes it shouldn't have to pay for the right to use statistics.

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