- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In a move seen as a victory for fantasy sports companies, the Supreme Court yesterday decided against hearing arguments in a dispute between Major League Baseball and fantasy operators, essentially allowing the companies to use player names and statistics without a license from the league.

By failing to take up the case, the justices let a lower court ruling stand that said the fantasy companies had a First Amendment right to publish such information. MLB and its players association had argued they have the right to control the use of player names, citing the players’ right to privacy.

The justices made no comments in rejecting a hearing on the issue.

The origins of the dispute stem from 2005, when the players association granted MLB Advanced Media the exclusive right to use and sublicense player names and statistics for use in fantasy games. MLB Advanced Media granted licenses to CBS Sports and ESPN but denied a license to smaller operators, including CDM Fantasy Sports, a fantasy sports provider in St. Louis. The company then sued and proceeded to operate its fantasy sports games without a license. CDM prevailed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, and the verdict was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

Several major sports leagues had filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of MLB.

With the Supreme Court left as the only apparent legal recourse for baseball, it is unclear how baseball will proceed. A spokesman for the players association said the union is “considering our options at this time.”

It is also unclear how the decision affects existing licensing deals. The deal between MLB Advanced Media and the players association expires at the end of this year.

Officials from the fantasy sports industry hailed the court’s lack of action as a victory.

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to disturb the 8th Circuit’s decision … is yet another victory for First Amendment freedoms, fantasy sports businesses and the millions of fantasy sports players nationwide,” said Glenn Colton, an attorney who filed a brief in support of the fantasy sports operators.

Jeff Thomas, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, said it “marks potentially the single biggest day in the history of the fantasy sports industry.”

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