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It’s Now OK to Fantasize Again

August 8, 2006 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

Phew! Thanks to a U.S. District Court ruling today, you will not be dragged away, kicking and screaming, for running that office fantasy baseball league without a licensing agreement.

In a move that threatened to bring the fantasy industry to its knees — or certainly limit the participation within it to a larger and select group of companies, Major League Baseball started cracking down on which and how many firms received licenses when it paid $50 million to the players union to buy the exclusive rights to license stats.

MLB’s argument is that it’s illegal for fantasy leagues to make money off the identities and stats of pro baseball players because of intellectual property laws and “right of publicity.”

However, according to Judge Mary Ann Medler, the sport and its players can’t prevent the use of names and playing records. “Federal copyright law does not pre-empt the players’ claimed right of publicity,” she wrote in a 49-page summary judgment.

Now, no one would blame baseball for fighting against something that was posing a legitimate threat to the sport, for instance, if a large television network was reneging on a contractual agreement to broadcast games. That’s a definite threat to the sport.

But fantasy baseball is a pastime and industry that caters to the very lifeblood of the game — its hardcore fans. In its typical myopia, baseball was trying to protect its turf from the very audience it most needs to appease. The sport doesn’t have that many die-hard fans any more. Why would baseball try to indirectly alienate them for what amounts to pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things?

Wasn’t failure to see the big picture the reason MLB has already lost its spot as America’s pastime? Having already fallen behind NFL and NASCAR in popularity, perhaps baseball won’t be happy until it’s less popular than basketball or even — gasp — hockey. Keep pissing off the true fans and it may not be so far fetched a scenario.

Thanks, Judge Medler, for chalking one up for the little guys — the people who truly love the game and would never try to destroy baseball. Baseball, on the other hand, would think nothing of destroying them.

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