Federal Appeals Court Rejects Absurd Intellectual Property Argument

It’s not often that America’s pastime and individual liberty cross paths, but it happened earlier this week when a Federal Appeals Court in Missouri rejected an argument by Major League Baseball and it’s players union that player names and statistics constitute intellectual property rights:

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) — Companies that operate fantasy sports leagues have a First Amendment right to use players’ names and statistics for free, a court ruled in a case filed against Major League Baseball.

The federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled today in favor of C.B.C. Distribution and Marketing Inc., a closely held operator of fantasy sports leagues.

The ruling is a victory for the fantasy sports business, which started with statistics-rich baseball in 1980 and spread to other sports. Today it is a $1.5 billion industry, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

“It’s vindication,” said Greg Ambrosius, a former president of the association who is now editor of Fantasy Sports Magazine. “We were a bunch of Mom-and-Pop shops who grew the industry from nothing to where it is today, and then when we got big, people started saying, `Hey, we own this.”’

At issue in the litigation was the right to names and statistics of pro athletes when the information is used by a business rather than a news organization.

“It would be strange law that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone,” a three-judge panel said, ruling the Constitution trumps the players’ ability to control their publicity.

Strange indeed. It would sort of be like Microsoft saying that it has an intellectual property right in the price of it’s stock.