Fall 1996: The Docket

In a case with broad implications for fans who follow out-of-town games via the Internet or other electronic media, federal judge Loretta Preska enjoined STATS, Inc. and Motorola from providing real-time updates of NBA games through Motorola's SportsTrax pager. The decision has been appealed.

The case, National Basketball Assn. v. Sports Team Analysis and Tracking Systems, 931 F. Supp. 1124 (S.D.N.Y. 1996), involves a pager which regularly updates the score, time and other information from all ongoing NBA games, running a minute or two behind the live action. This information is collected by STATS, Inc. reporters following the game on TV or radio. STATS provides similar, minute-by-minute updates of baseball games to its own America Online site as well as other sites on the World Wide Web.

Judge Preska rejected the NBA's copyright claims, holding that the games themselves aren't copyrightable and that STATS didn't take any copyrightable element of the broadcasts. But she found for the NBA on a theory of "commercial misappropriation" under common law, relying on a line of cases which have enjoined third parties from reproducing the action of ongoing sporting events in competition with the official, licensed broadcast. In the closest factual analogue, National Exhibition Co. v. Fass, 143 N.Y.S.2d 767 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 1955), a teletype operator was enjoined from sending play-by-play information from Giants' broadcasts to competing radio stations for immediate rebroadcast. Many media interests, including America Online and The New York Times, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Second Circuit supporting STATS; they argue that the bare-bones facts provided through these updates is no substitute for, or commercial threat to, actual live coverage of the games.

A federal judge in Erie, PA dismissed 1950 NL Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe's suit for pension benefits. Jethroe claimed that racial discrimination prevented him from reaching the four years of major-league service necessary for him to receive pension and medical benefits, but U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin ruled that the suit was barred by the statute of limitations.

A group calling itself the Eternal Vigilance Society has sued the New York Yankees, seeking to enjoin the club from taking its name, logo or other symbols if it moves to a stadium outside The Bronx. When this nuisance suit is inevitably dismissed, the Society's organizers may turn to Plan B: crying and stamping their feet really, really hard.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a publisher's right to issue a series of parody baseball cards without the players' permission. The Players' Association had sued Cardtoons, the Oklahoma company which issued the cards, claiming that its caricatures and humorous commentary (written by noted baseball author Mike Sowell) unfairly competed with licensed cards, but the court held that First Amendment concerns outweighed the players' right of publicity.

Copyright © 1996 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Fall 1996 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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