Fantasy baseball leagues can use real players' names, Supreme Court agrees Justices deny the appeal by pro players who argued that no one had a right to exploit their identities for commercial gain.
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer 12:00 PM PDT, June 2, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball struck out in the Supreme Court today as the justices let stand a ruling that gives for-profit "fantasy" leagues on the Web a free-speech right to use the names of real players without paying a licensing fee.
The high court turned down baseball's appeal of that ruling without comment.
It was a setback for baseball players and other professional athletes, who maintained that no one had a right to "exploit players' identity for commercial gain." The National Football League, the National Basketball Assn. and the National Hockey League had supported baseball's players and owners in their appeal to the Supreme Court.
But the fantasy leagues successfully argued that famous ballplayers are well known to the public and that their names and statistics could be used freely -- and without paying a fee for the privilege.
Fantasy sports are estimated to generate $500 million in revenue per year from more than 19 million participants, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Assn. As would-be "owners," the participants select players from major league rosters, and the performance of their teams depends on how those players perform during the season.
Most of the Web-based leagues charge fees to join, as well as fees for making trades.
The largest leagues are licensed by the Major League Baseball and include those operated by ESPN, CBS Sportsline, Fox Sports and Yahoo. These companies pay a fee for the use of the players' names.
A company in St. Louis, formerly known as C.B.C. Distribution & Marketing, sued in 2005 after Major League Baseball moved to cut it out of the licensing deal. Its lawyers argued that it did not need the permission of baseball to use the players' names, and it won free-speech victories from a federal judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Major League Baseball appealed to the Supreme Court in February, arguing that "billions of dollars" in licensing deals could be jeopardized if companies had a free-speech right to use the names of famous people without permission.
But the justices turned down the appeal today without comment in the case of Major League Baseball vs. C.B.C. Distribution. The court's action does not set a precedent, but it leaves intact the ruling holding that the names of famous athletes are in the public domain.
its not that they minded the leagues exploiting their names for monetary gain. Its just that they werent getting a cut of it. These leagues only help their popularity _________________ There are great traditions of liberty to defend. I am no partisan man. Where I see infamy I seek to erase it. Party names mean nothing. The tradition of liberty means all. The common people will let it go, oh yes. They will sell liberty for a quieter life
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