baseball batOn May 28th, Phillies versus the Mets, ace-pitcher Cole Hamels, allowed four runs in eight innings but got out of an eighth-inning jam by making the right pitches at the right time.  But it was first baseman Ty Wigginton’s game.  He saved the day by going 3-for-3 with a double, home run, two walks, and a career-high six RBI’s.

So, now that I’ve given you a brief synopsis of the game, were you aware that Major League Baseball (MLB) believes I’m guilty of copyright infringement?  Yes, that’s right, MLB prohibits all accounts of the game for any purpose.  According to Dr. Copyright, who graciously provided me an emergency consultation,  I shouldn’t worry, though.   Here’s why.

You’ve probably heard the mantra before or during every broadcast of a major league baseball game (football, too):

Any rebroadcast, reproduction or other use of the pictures and accounts of this game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited.

The National Football League has a similar warning:

This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent, is prohibited.

These warnings are harsher than they need to be.  Do your think that every journalist covering a baseball game has obtained permission from the MLB to write a story about it?  Of course not.  But who gives the sports leagues authority to prohibit you from recounting a game?  The answer is no one, not even copyright law.  The prohibition is not only harsh, it’s flat wrong.

There is little dispute that broadcasts of sporting events are copyrighted events.  If one were to record a game and post it on YouTube (assuming that you could do so), the copyright police would bring it down before you could turn off your computer.  This is the leagues’ right.  They produce and distribute the game and, therefore, have a right to make sure that others are not profiting from their endeavors.  But recounting a sports story, whether verbally or in print, is not a copyright infringement, it falls under the broad designation of “fair use”.   Fair use is  written into the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17 § 107) and permits use of copyrighted works for purposes of criticism, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.  Granted, the boundaries of fair use are fuzzy — courts have and continue to wrestle with what constitutes fair use — but it remains one of the bulwarks of first amendment protection from those who claim a monopoly on information. So, the bottom line is don’t be intimidated by misinformation.

— Adam G. Garson, Esq.