Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Major League Baseball still at it

Last year, Major League Baseball sued the operators of several online fantasy baseball leagues, demanding licensing fees for the use of players' names and images.

I noted at the time how legally questionable -- not to mention stupidly self-destructive -- the move was. I'm not sure how MLB expects to prosper when it tries to destroy a stupendously efficient fan-creation machine. The NFL, for example, has always seemed to understand how useful fantasy football is for building interest in the game -- something far more valuable in the long-run than trying to squeeze revenue out of what is a low-cost hobby for most people.

The good news: MLB lost the case. The bad news: They appealed. And the appeal got a hearing last week. But it got a rocky reception.

A panel of three judges at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seemed skeptical that MLB could take financial control of a game that uses publicly available statistics and widely known names of players.

It will be interesting if they lose, because an adverse ruling could jeopardize the millions in licensing fees that the biggest operators of fantasy leagues have already agreed to pay. If the judges rule that such information is essentially public domain, the big companies will no longer feel compelled to pay.

One can only hope. As I noted last year:

In it's greed-fueled quest for control, MLB threatens to damage a hobby that probably has helped baseball's bottom line far more than it has harmed it. It's the sports equivalent of Digital Rights Management, in which publishers are destroying they're online market through greed and fear.

It would serve them right if that's what happened. But I enjoy fantasy sports too much to want to endure the fallout.

(h/t: Stubborn Facts)

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