The Sports Law Blog reports on a story I first saw in the hard copy edition of IP Law and Business. A version of it (that magazine, like almost everything else, is owned by AmLaw Media) can be found here. Bottom line: Major League Baseball is asserting the “right” to the exploitation of baseball statistics, serving up such gopher balls as, “Player statistics are in the public domain. We’ve never disputed that. But if you’re going to use statistics in a game for profit, you need a license from us to do that. We own those statistics when they’re used for commercial gain.” The angle? Perhaps, maybe, the stats themselves don’t belong to the league, but, uh, the “methodology” for computing them does.
Greg at the Sports Law Blog put it well:
Thus, it seems to me that baseball will lose this claim. Statistics are facts, nothing more, and can be disseminated as freely as can news stories. It is unclear how extending copyright to statistics would not also impact newspapers, television stations and commercial websites that also report baseball statistics. Baseball’s methods for “compiling” these statistics consists of the advanced mathematical functions of addition and averaging.
I’m not even sure it’s true that MLB itself (which has also had domain name issues of interest to legal professionals) has in any innovated or created the statistics. Most of these seem to have been created by fans (lots of fans) and media outlets.
All of which should make MLB happy. These baseball stats take on a life of their own and just route consumers right back to the product. Why it is that every single damned subsidiary thing that emits from a “property” has to be snagged, bagged and tagged is just, I guess, the waters of capitalism seeking their own level. In this case, however, here’s hoping the courts find that MLB is all wet.
UPDATE: David Marc Nieporent (of the famed Jumping to Conclusions blog, and) of our office reports as follows:
If you read the lawsuit for declaratory relief filed by CDC against MLB, attached as exhibits are the C&D letters sent by MLB. They make trademark and publicity claims, but no copyright. (Although the complaint for relief does ask for declaratory judgment on copyright, as well.) http://www.businessofbaseball.com/docs/CDC%20v%20MLBAM.pdf