Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Facts Still Not Covered By Copyright

Sports reference publishing -- and all journalism, for that matter -- is made possible by the legal principle that facts can't be copyrighted. It's a principle that was upheld by the Supreme Court with their Feist ruling in 1991, and again this summer in the Major League Baseball v CBC case.

The issue was put to the test again this month in Federal Court, with a pair of documentary filmmakers suing Warner Brothers over their 2006 film "We Are Marshall." The dispute centered on the rights to the story of the tragic 1970 airplane crash that killed 37 members of Marshall University's football team and the school's remarkable efforts the following year to rebuild the program. Deborah Novak and John Witek argued that the studio's film stole their work with by retelling the story which they documented in their Emmy award winning 2000 film, "Ashes to Glory."

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Allen Feess dismissed the case on Monday, delivering a lengthy opinion which concluded: "Though the two works tell the story of the Nov. 14, 1970, airplane crash, that event, and the events that preceded and followed, are all matters of public record which cannot be copyrighted." He went on to write: "Even though the two works have the same story as their subject, they are not substantially similar as the phrase is used in copyright jurisprudence."

In an excellent post at the TechDirt blog, Mike Masnick discusses the impact the ruling may have on the strange practice of movie studios "buying the rights" to someone's story.

There's really no legal reason for them to do so -- as you can't copyright factual information. Anyone can make a movie based on a true story without purchasing any kinds of rights. Now, there may be some business reasons for doing so. Licensing the story from either those who were involved or who initially reported on it may allow you to have those people more involved in making the movie itself (though, that could just be handled by hiring them to advise, rather than "licensing" the story). Still, it did seem odd that it was so common for true stories to be "sold" this way.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Radio Blitz

A flurry of radio appearances are scheduled for next week. I'll post them here as I confirm times and dates. Have locked in NewsRadio 1400 WDWS in Champaign, IL on Tuesday 10/21 at 7:30 pm Central time.

Working on times & dates for stations in Chatanooga and in Missoouri, probably on Thursday and Friday.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Canton vs. Masillon, 1906

The image above is a detail from a panoramic photo taken at a game between the Massillon Tigers and Canton Athletic Club on November 24, 1906. Note the grid lines on the field, which run from both side-to-side and end-to-end. My small version of the photo doesn't do it justice. If you click through to the Library of Congress website, you can see the full image. It's rich with detail, and it also captures an historic game in the tumultuous pre-NFL world of pro football.

Historian Bob Carroll describes the image in an article at the website of the Pro Football Researcher's Association. (note: link is to a pdf)

The Haines Photo Co. of Conneaut photographed the asylum grounds in the midst of play. The view shows the 110-yard field lined off with the peculiar lengthwise lines five yards apart parallel to the sidelines that, together with the normal yard markings, turned gridirons into huge green checkerboards from 1906 to 1910. (The extra lines were used to judge the legality of forward passes, which had to cross the line of scrimmage five yards out from where the ball was put in play.) At either end of the field, American flags crown each upright of the goal posts. On the Massillon side, the open bleachers overflow except for a small section down near one end zone, where a skinned baseball diamond is visible. Across the field, there's no room left in the smaller Canton bleacher section, and spectators stand three deep behind the bench and from end zone to end zone. Perched on the outfield wall are hundreds more. Even the streetcars parked outside the wall have fans on the roofs. In the mid-background, brooding over all, is the state hospital.

The two teams were bitter rivals. They were arguably the best two teams of the era, located just 15 miles apart, and they were constantly fighting for the services of the game's best players. Both were spending lavishly to bring in ringers from out of town. A series of intense negotiations resulted in an agreement for the teams to meet two times, first in Canton on November 16 and a week later in Massillon. The much anticipated first game went to Canton by a score of 10-5. Carroll describes the hub-bub the game created:

No pro game had ever received such press coverage. The Bell Telephone company even had men stationed in the grounds observing. As fast as a play was made, it was telegraphed to all the large cities in the country.

Things were much testier by the following week. There had been a war of words in the press, and a disagreement over which ball to use nearly kept the game from getting underway. Massillon won the hard-fought rematch 13-6.

The evening after the game, a brawl erupted among Canton players during dinner at their hotel. It later came out that some thought the game had been fixed. The play-calling strategy of player-coach Blondy Wallace was the focus of suspicion, but as the scandal grew, a number of contradictory allegations came out. One story suggested that Canton players had bet large amounts of money on themselves to win, and then Massillon players had been approached and asked to fix the game, to lose on purpose in exchange for a share of the wager's proceeds. Charges and accusations were levied back and forth for weeks, and while there was never any definitive answer as to what happened, the scandal engulfed both teams and forced them to fold.

Early Football Photos

With their stylish caps, this looks like a photo of a 19th century baseball team. But look more closely at the oblong object the man in the front row is holding. That's a football, and this is a picture of the 11-man squad from Trinity College taken in 1889.

The game of football was born in the 1870s on the campus of northeastern colleges. By the late 1880s it was spreading like wildfire, and the boys from Trinity formed a league with other North Carolina schools like Duke, Wake Forest, and UNC.

The folks at Duke University have been sharing their archives online, with a massive collection of photographs that span the institution's history. There are photos showing campus scenes, student life, early postcards... even a 70 picture set that covers campus dining halls. But my favorite is the collection of Duke football pictures. I'm particularly fond af the artwork on the football programs, like this one from 1937.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Palin's World

Even if you like Sarah Palin, you have to admit that New Yorker magazine's update of one of their classic cover designs is funny.

Thanks to the great blog Strange Maps for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Statistician's View of Electoral Politics

I like to think I'm an informed voter. I'm sure most people think they are too. But it's harder and harder to avoid the blatant partisan blather that passes for commentary on the cable news networks. No matter what issue is raised or what question is asked, the panelists spin into an attack on the opposing candidate. Enough already.

There's a great new web site that caught my attention earlier in the year called FiveThirtyEight.com, and I've been recommending it to many of my friends. And here's the twist; after reading it every day for weeks I discovered that it was the brainchild of Nate Silver, a baseball analyst best known for his predictive models to project player performance. Nate has applied his advanced statistical analysis to study political polls, compiling polling data from hundreds of sources and measuring the effectiveness of different polling techniques.

Wikipedia offers this overview:

[The site] compiles polling data through a unique methodology derived from Silver's experience in baseball sabermetrics to "balance out the polls with comparative demographic data" and "weighting each poll based on the pollster's historical track record, sample size, and recentness of the poll."FiveThirtyEight.com also uses computer models to simulate the election 10,000 times per day in order to provide a continually up-to-date assessment of probability for electoral outcomes.

Notably, FiveThirtyEight.com's new polling methodology gained national attention for beating out most pollsters' projections in North Carolina and Indiana in the heavily contested political primary race between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Nate launched the site in March, and by the end of September it was attracting 2.5 million unique visitors a week.

A lot of folks probably aren't interested in this sort number crunching, but I find it fascinating. It's an injection of science into what has, at least for the general public, been a nebulous process. Maybe Nate will do for politics what Michael Lewis and his book Moneyball did for the game of baseball.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Writing is A Conversation

Writing is a conversation.

It starts a solitary act. You sit alone in a room quietly typing away, but the words on the page are a conversation you're having with the reader.

A lot of us become writers because we find that it's how we communicate best. We're better at sharing our ideas in the written form. A lot of that is a result of (or maybe the cause of) our shyness.

And that's a problem, because being successful as an author requires aggressive self-promotion. Some folks aren't comfortable with that. I haven't always been. I was like many authors who would prefer to finish their book and lot others worry about promotion and publicity. But the fact is, unless your name is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, publishers aren't going to do any of that for you. Books don't sell because they're well written. They sell because the author promotes them.

Cartoonist Hugh MacLeod hit on that point the other day at his blog. He's probably best known for his known for his ideas about how "Web 2.0" affects advertising and marketing. Here's what Hugh wrote:

It always struck me as funny how people want to be artists, yet they don't want to be marketers. To me that's like wanting to be a pro football player, yet not wanting to keep in shape. Nice work if you can get it.

If you're not comfortable pitching your book, doing radio shows and book signings and interviews and all of that stuff, then this isn't the racket for you. If you're not prepared to hear some readers say you're an idiot and your book stinks and you're funny looking, then you're only interested in having a monologue. If you're a writer, you eventually have to take the conversation out of that quiet room and directly to the readers.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Radio Tonight

Making another radio appearance tonight (Thursday 10/2) on WUCZ 104.1 FM in Carthage, Tennessee. Scheduled to be on SportsNuts from 7:30 to 8:00 pm eastern time, and you can listen online.

Update: Sorry for those of you who missed me. I didn't realize Carthage was on Central time. My appearance was at 8:30 eastern time. Thanks to John and Jim for a great conversation.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

On Wearing Suits

Do you wear a suit to work? I don't, and neither does NBA owner and business maverick Mark Cuban. The business suit use to be a universal requirement, but it's becoming much less common. Cuban talked about his own decision to opt for casual wear in his blog.

Why am I such a suit hater ? I'm not a suit hater, I just could never think of any good reason for any sane person to wear a suit in the first place.

Exactly what purpose does a suit serve ? Why in the world are so many people required to wear a suit to work ? Do the clothes make the man or woman in the western world today ? Does wearing a tie make us work harder or smarter ? Is this a conspiracy by the clothing, fabric or dry cleaning industry to take our money ?

Or are we all just lemmings following a standard we all know makes zero sense, but we follow because we are afraid not to ?

If you are a CEO, are there not better things your employees could spend money on than multiple suits, ties, dress shirts, dress shoes, dress socks, dry cleaning, and all the other associated costs ? Gee, no suits would be the same as giving your employees a tax free raise. Think that might make them happy ? Or do employees consider having to spend money on suits a perk ?

Suits used to be standard attire for NFL coaches on the sidelines, until the league signed a $250 million contract with Reebok mandating that coaches as well as players wear Reebok sportswear exclusively during games. Niners head coach Mike Nolan had to petition the league for the right to wear a suit during games, and it took almost two years to get their permission.