- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

A judge in St. Louis yesterday said Major League Baseball can not require fantasy sports companies to pay for the use of player names and statistics, a decision hailed as a major victory for firms threatened by the league’s licensing requirements.

District Court Judge Mary Ann L. Medler handed down a summary judgement in favor of CBC Distribution and Marketing, a St. Louis Company commonly known as CDM Fantasy Sports, which had sued MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) on the grounds that player names and statistics can not be “owned” by the league or anyone else.

MLBAM had argued that the players had a right to control how their names and statistics were used, and that companies should not be allowed to make money off of player likenesses.

“[T]he court finds that … the players do not have a right of publicity in their names and playing records as used in CBC’s fantasy games and that CBC has not violated the players’ claimed right of publicity,” Medler wrote. “The court further finds, alternatively, that even if the players have a claimed right of publicity, the First Amendment takes precedence over such a right.”

The dispute between CBC and MLBAM dates to 2005, when the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to license names and statistics to MLBAM as part of a five-year deal worth up to $50 million. MLBAM, in turn, sought to sublicense that information to some companies, while denying sublicenses to others, including CBC, which had previously held licenses from 1995 to 2004. Yesterday’s ruling, in essence, shoots down MLBAM’s attempts to pick and choose which companies have the right to use player names and statistics for fantasy games.

“There’s no question it’s a major victory,” said Rudy Telscher, an attorney who represented CBC in the dispute. “It’s a victory for consumers, because in my view, this could have taken fantasy games from 100 down to three.”

CBC, once one of the world’s largest fantasy sports companies, lost much of its market share after losing contracts with USA Today, CBS Sportsline and others big media firms, who were wary of partnering with a company unlicensed by the league.

“We were pretty much stymied there,” said Charlie Wiegert, vice president of CBC. “This gives us a chance to talk with some people and create some new partnerships.”

A spokesman for MLBAM declined comment until the ruling could be reviewed more thoroughly and a spokesman for the players said the association “most certainly disagreed with the decision” but would also withhold further comment. He declined to say whether the league or players association would appeal.

It is unclear whether the ruling will set guidelines for other sports leagues to follow, but a similar decision from an appellate court would likely set a precedent, legal scholars familiar with the case said. Fantasy sports supporters said they would not be surprised if the players association filed an appeal, but that for now, they were pleased.

“It is a defining moment in the industry, because it takes away the gray cloud as to whether or not you need to be licensed,” said Greg Ambrosius, a former president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. “We now have a clearer picture.”

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