January 16, 2006


Ground-Rule Trouble

...For many years, critics have suggested that administrators in Major League Baseball might very well be the most fan-unfriendly of all the major sports leagues. The league has proved those critics correct yet again.
...A lawsuit has been filed by CBC Distribution and Marketing against Major League Baseball in a dispute involving the use of players’ statistics. CBC runs fantasy baseball leagues and Major League Baseball is calling for them to cease using statistics for their leagues as CBC isn’t licensed by MLB to do so. In turn, CBC is arguing that Major League Baseball can’t actually “own” statistics, as statistics are nothing more than factual numbers that are part of the public record.
...Major League Baseball’s argument is that of intellectual property rights, and Forbes has the league quoted as saying that unlicensed use of stats will “commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles” of its players.
...I have to agree with CBC’s argument, and I also wonder how far Major League Baseball will go in an attempt to “own” all things baseball.
...Statistics are a numerical record of historical incidents. In this case, they show how many times a player came to the plate, how many hits that he had, how many RBI he drove in, etc. Similarly for pitchers, they act as a record of how many innings that he pitched, how many hits that he gave up, how many runs that he allowed, etc. These numbers are not logos, they’re not photographs of the games, and they’re not audio/visual accounts of the games such as video that might find their way onto television or the Internet for viewing. Logos, photographs, and video segments fall into a different category, as ownership of those is more concrete than “ownership” of numbers, and subsequent profits made from their use is more readily apparent.
...While statistics are, indeed, a recorded account of what transpired in a game that is sanctioned by a particular league—in this case Major League Baseball—a push to “own” such numbers might make us wonder how far Major League Baseball will go in the future to control anything and everything related to it.
...Will it become so controlled that even the use of team names on blogs will be subject to licensure? Will bloggers who wish to discuss their favorite teams or players be required to pay royalties to the league? It might happen if those same blogs happen to have advertisements on them, as many do. It could be argued that they were “commercially exploiting” the statistics and players’ names, and even the team names.
...I’m not a public relations specialist, but you don’t have to be one to see that it’s becoming more and more difficult to be a baseball fan. I don’t mean that it’s difficult to be a fan of the sport, per se; it’s actually becoming more difficult to follow and enjoy the sport due to limitations that are being imposed by the very league that is supposed to promote it and encourage its popularity.
...Some things in life might be more attractive the more that they’re inaccessible, but baseball shouldn’t be one of those forbidden fruits. Those of us who are fans enjoy it because we have—or rather, had—access to it.


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