Baseball Statistics as Intellectual Property?

baseball1a.jpgFrom the AP:

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 says 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. . . .

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.

The LA Times has a more detailed article. The complaint is here.

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3 Responses

  1. BTD_Venkat says:

    There’s some precedent from the PGA and the NBA, both potentially relevant.

  2. marty lederman says:

    Dan: It would, indeed, be preposterous if MLB were trying to stop people from distributing players’ statistics. A sure loser, I hope. But there may be less here than meets the eye. The LA Times story reports that in “court filings,” MLB has maintained that it is unlawful to “commercially exploit statistical profiles.” But in the letters attached to the complaint, all MLB appears to be complaining about is the use of team logos and player “likenesses,” which may raise other, less interesting, IP questions, but is a far cry from trying to monopolize publicly available statistics. It would be interesting to see from other filings whether MLB is actually pressing the statistics issue.

    In any event, MLB deserves to lose the case regardless of the merits, because in its 01/19/05 press release it included the following horrifying sentence: “The historic agreement is expected to aggressively grow the presence and penetration of Major League Baseball and its players on the Internet and provide more robust tools and experiences for baseball fans around the world.”

    On the other hand, if MLB wants to copyright the phrase “aggressively grow the penetration,” and thereby prevent others from using it. more power to them.

  3. Anon says:

    Yes — the AP story seems to be the source of confusion here. Its description of the legal issues doesn’t track well with the Complaint.