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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Owning Statistics

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times by Alan Schwarz on the controversy surrounding the licensing of fantasy leagues (a business that touches 15 million people with a $1.5 billion annual impact) by MLB Advanced Media. As an employee of MLBAM (as a stringer for's GameDay system) I'm probably not in the best position to comment but what folks have asked me is if the lawsuit has any bearing on the analysis of statistics. The following quote from Schwarz appears relevant in this regard.

"Major League Baseball Advanced Media is not making a copyright claim to the statistics themselves; a 1997 decision in the United States Court of Appeals involving the National Basketball Association ruled sports statistics to be public-domain facts that do not belong to the leagues.

Rather, the central issue concerns celebrities' ability to control use of their names in commercial ventures, and how this "right of publicity," which has developed under state common law and statute over the last half-century, may commingle with Constitutional press protections under the First Amendment."

So it would appear the issue revolves around how the players are portrayed and can be interacted with in the venture in question and not really their statistics, although some are worried that it's a slippery slope. Schwarz writes that the case could go either way and should be decided in September.

Maury Brown over at The Hardball Times had a nice piece on this as well back in January that has additional background info.

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