Monday, June 2, 2008

A thank you to the Supreme Court

Apparently Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a fantasy baseball fan. Who knew?

OK, perhaps that's a stretch. But Ginsburg and her fellow Supreme Court justices on Monday refused to hear a case involving Major League Baseball and a company that operates a fantasy baseball site. It seems MLB was denying Missouri-based C.B.C. Distribution and its CDM Fantasy Sports site a license to feature players' names and statistics in their fantasy baseball games, arguing that using individual likenesses for profit was a violation of the players' privacy rights. Other courts have already ruled that enforcing state law would be a violation of C.B.C.'s First Amendment right to free speech.

So what does it all mean for us? In a nutshell, the fantasy world goes on as normal. If MLB and other pro sports leagues had their way, they'd hold power over all the sites that get to run fantasy operations. They have already been limiting their licensing agreements to a select few sites - ESPN, Yahoo, etc. - who are allowed to use players' names and likenesses, for a fee of course. If the courts ruled in its favor in this case, MLB might try to become the sole operator of fantasy sites, forcing all of us together under one umbrella on one site. Other sites would disappear without access to real-life players' names and their real-life stats, the two essential parts of fantasy baseball. But now, with the Supreme Court turning a deaf ear to this case, it's a huge victory that allows other sites appear to continue operating as normal. And we as fantasy players benefit by having more choices regarding which sites to use for our leagues.

The MLB's argument that it should have exclusive control of players' stats is bogus. Shouldn't any site have the right to say that Ryan Braun hit 34 homers last year? Isn't that public knowledge? MLB was arguing that stats are intellectual property, but that argument didn't seem to hold much water when you consider every newspaper and TV station in the country has been allowed to use those same stats in their products. And baseball's concerns about other companies profiting off their players is ludicrous. If anything, interest in fantasy baseball has helped drive up the record-breaking revenues MLB has enjoyed in recent years. As one fantasy baseball fan told the Associated Press, "I follow games I’d never have followed. I’ll flip on a Rangers-Mariners game that I would never have cared about before to see a Josh Hamilton at-bat. It draws me in a lot more.’’

I think we can all tell a similar story. And we can all thank the Supreme Court for protecting the game we love.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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