Thursday, June 05, 2008

High Court Upholds Right to Use Sports Data

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against Major League Baseball and the Players Association in their heavy handed efforts to assert control over the use of baseball statistics. The two entities had argued that they owned the rights to the use of their playing statistics, and that companies who used them to run fantasy baseball leagues had to pay a licensing fee. A lower court had ruled against MLB, and by refusing to hear an appeal, the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

The Court has already ruled pretty clearly on the central issue in this case: that factual information could not be protected by copyright. That 1991 decision (Feist v Rural Telephone) was fought between the publishers of competing phone books, but it has made a major impact in the field of sport reference publishing. It's made it possible for me to publish the kinds of books and websites I've worked on for the past decade, and it's helped spawn all kinds of great new research by making the raw data more widely available.