MLB defending copyrights for the MLS

The New York Times has a story about Major League Baseball’s lawsuit aledging that use of MLB’s statistics and player names in fantasy leagues is infringing on major league baseball’s mojo (look and feel?):

“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.”

The Washington DC MLS (MRIS) recently issued a couple of reports urging agents to consider statistics like list price to be copyrightable (Russ doesn’t agree with this analysis, follow the link to see why), but in the world of baseball, the decision has already been handed down:

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.

Perhaps the MRIS should look into hiring the MLB lawyers when they’re through with the case. By that time they’ll be experienced at explaining the difference between statistics and “right of publicity”:

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.

Russ on Listing Copyrights

RCG contributors have been all over Inman News lately…

Today Russ is giving his opinion on two papers recently released by MRIS (Washington DC MLS) that have to do with the copyrights that agents have on listings.

The general thrust of the reports are that real estate agents should assert the copyright on their listings:

“Our intention with this discussion paper is to remind those that can lawfully assert copyright rights that they have legitimate recourse at their disposal if they feel their rights are violated,” the paper states.

Issues related to the copyright, control and ownership of property listings information have been debated for many years within the real estate industry, and there has been an increasing focus on these issues, the paper states, that has created “robust” and “at times contentious” discussions about the present state of the business and the future of the industry. Among new entrants to the industry are “alternative business models that propose to dramatically change the real estate industry,” as well as “new offerings from existing industry participants that may also impact the way the industry thinks about — and practices — real estate,” according to the paper.

Russ is not convinced that agents have all the rights that the paper asserts:

(Russ) said he “completely” disagrees with the perspective in the report that the listing price of a property is copyrightable, for example. “It’s the seller who typically comes up with (the listing price) and not the agent,” he said. “If it was copyrightable it would be copyrightable to the seller. In my opinion the argument does not have legal authority to back it. If challenged in court I believe that the court would find the listing price is a fact as opposed to a protectable element.” The listing price, as far as consumers are concerned, is definitely a very important aspect of property listings information, he said.

This is an interesting argument and at the root of the DOJ case against NAR that is currently working itself through the legal system.

DOJ, Copyright and Real Estate Listings

I just noticed an interesting article published in the Inman News by RCG contributor, Russ Cofano, that provides an interesting perspective on the extent to which a listing broker can copyright a listing (requires a subscription after today).

In a recent news publication, attorney J.T. Westermeier, partner in the firm of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary US LLP, said that copyright owners of property listings content are not subject to compulsory licensing and that brokers can refuse to allow their listings to be displayed publicly by third parties even if the third parties are competing brokers. In Westermeier’s view, NAR’s online listings display policy being challenged by the DOJ is consistent with the broker’s exclusive copyright rights.

Like many of the arguments that have supported the use of copyright laws to protect listing data, I believe that this argument is misguided. First, Westermeier correctly addressed only copyright rights associated with the photographs and the expressive comments to the listing. As we all should know by now, there can be no copyright to the property facts contained in a single listing. In the perfect world, I might agree that a broker could limit the use of copyrighted photographs and listing comments if indeed the broker owned all of those rights. That is when reality sets in and we realize that the multiple listing service/broker/agent interrelationship is anything but perfect.

Russ goes on to say under the current listing arrangement, most agents are independent contractors who have not given up the ownership of their text and photos associated with a listing. While some agents may have agreements with their brokers that gives up their copyright, this practice is not universal (and I assume that the practice is not even common).

If, within a single MLS, there was uniformity that led to the broker owning the copyright in the copyrightable elements of each listing, Mr. Westermeier’s argument might be a good one. The reality is that within most MLSs, and even within many brokerages, there is no such uniformity. Because of this lack of uniformity, the argument of broker copyright to support an MLS listing display policy that applies equally to the entire MLS membership just won’t work.