The New York Times describes a pending court case:
The dispute is between a company in St. Louis that operates fantasy sports leagues over the Internet and the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, which says that anyone using players' names and performance statistics to operate a fantasy league commercially must purchase a license. The St. Louis company counters that it does not need a license because the players are public figures whose statistics are in the public domain.
Does that mean the MLB (motto: "almost as good as the MLA") thinks it owns baseball statistics? No—it's laying claim to something even more substantial:
"What a company like CBC is selling is not nearly a repackaging of statistics," said Lee Goldsmith, a lawyer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media. "They're selling and they're marketing the ability to buy, sell, draft and cut Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols. And part and parcel of the reason that people are willing to pay for that ability is the persona of Jeter, of Rodriguez, of Pujols."…
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.
And why does MLB think it controls "the persona of Jeter, of Rodriguez, of Pujols"? Because it "purchased the players' Internet and wireless rights from the players union in January 2005."
"If anything, this case is even more impactful if the court rules for the players, because it will speak to any time you use a name in a commercial venture," said Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at U.C.L.A. "What if you use a historical figure's name in a historical novel? Or other games, like Trivial Pursuit? How about 'Jeopardy!'? Would they be liable as well? That seems to be the logical consequence of this. How do you identify what is news, and other times when there's communication of factual information?"
[Via Against Monopoly.]