Eighth Circuit Rules Against MLB In Fantasy Baseball Suit
posted by Neil Richards
Earlier today, the Eighth Circuit ruled against Major League Baseball in the high-profile fantasy baseball case of CBC Distribution and Marketing, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Advanced Media. The case was brought by CBC, a St. Louis-based fantasy sports company against Major League Baseball seeking a declaratory judgment that CBC’s fantasy baseball games did not infringe upon the players’ rights of publicity or in the alternative that the First Amendment immunized it from liability. Dan and Kaimi blogged about this case last year here and here. In today’s ruling, the Eighth Circuit held that CBC infringed the players’ rights of publicity (which they had licensed to MLB) but that any state-law publicity claim was preempted by CBC’s First Amendment right to use player names and statistics.
I’ve got a lot to say about this case (which I think got the First Amendment issues exactly right), but in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I consulted with lawyers from the St. Louis office of Harness Dickey in structuring the First Amendment and publicity arguments, and that I helped draft some of the briefs. Since this compromises any appearance of objectivity, I’ll say only this by way of comment: I think the case was straightforward from a First Amendment point of view, but the really interesting implication of the case is what it will mean for the massive (and profitable) fantasy sports industry. CBC had been a licensee of baseball for the statistics, but baseball terminated the license a few years ago, apparently in an attempt to bring all fantasy baseball (and all of its profits) under its control. Today’s holding seems to stand for the proposition that baseball cannot “own” the historical facts of its games (just as famous people can’t own the facts of their biographies), and it protects fantasy sports companies to continue to offer games that are not merely “official” licensed products controlled by the major sports leagues. It’s also a much-needed strike against the rise of unnecessary intellectual property licensing, which my colleague Jennifer Rothman, as well as Jim Gibson and Elizabeth Winston have written about recently.