Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's Just a fantasy

In a recent ruling a federal court Major league baseball lost a suit in which they were claiming that a fantasy baseball site owed them licensing fees for using the stats and players names on their service. The ruling basically held that the stats and names of the players are in the public domain and therefore major league baseball does not have the right to charge for them. Major league baseball was of course planning to appeal the decision.

It's a tricky issue that is being decided. There is a certain element of baseball that is in the public domain. Every baseball game has a disclaimer where they say that the events, descriptions and accounts of the game cannot be disseminated without the express written consent of the team broadcasting the game. Well if that were the case, then every blogger or person who discusses the previous nights game with their friends would be guilty of copyright infringement. According to that statement, you and I would have to call the Yankees and get their permission to discuss the game with our friends. Clearly this is a blanket statement meant to prevent people from rebroadcasting the games for profit, but it is also over broad.

The Players association should have the right to control the image of it's members. I think it's perfectly logical that if the images of players are going to be used than some type of compensation is in order. If however, the only thing being used are the names and statistics, then this gets into a grey area. The stats are available in every newspaper across the country and in countless sites on the web. Should MLB be able to charge some for this information and not charge others. Newspapers don't pay MLB in order to publish game information. MLB already has agreements with a couple of the big fantasy sites (ESPN, CBS, Yahoo). Those sites pay millions of dollars to MLB in order to be "official" partners, but should they have to? The court currently says no, but I'm very sure that we haven't heard the last of this one yet.

I personally don't feel that MLB should have the right to charge for the statistics that are available to everyone for nothing. The real issue is whether people should be allowed to use those statistics for profit. Clearly MLB doesn't care if fans discuss or even write about the games. They only care when there is money being made and they aren't getting a piece of it. In the early days of fantasy baseball there was no money to be made and MLB didn't pay much attention to it. It's only been the last five years that the money aspect has begun to appeal to MLB. Fantasy baseball is now a billion dollar industry and that is what got MLB's attention. When the game was played by baseball stat geeks MLB didn't care.

MLB, which is exempt from the anti-trust laws wants it both ways at this point. They want people to have access to game information but only if they won't profit from it. It really should be one way or the other. Either we can all have the stats for free or none of us can. Baseball is played in public, it is discussed in public and the public is invited to view it. It's impossible to keep that facts of the game private. Unless baseball suddenly becomes an invitation only affair, it seems logical to me that the events, descriptions and accounts of the game should be free to the public, even if that public turns a profit on them.

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