Real-life court gives fantasy sports players a break

Far from the glare of the Johan Santana sweepstakes, a battle for the soul of fantasy sports is taking place in St. Louis. At issue: whether a fantasy sports league can use the name and statistics of real life players.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media, a marketing and legal arm of the sports league, has been in a battle with CDM Fantasy Sports, over whether fantasy leagues must pay a rights fee for the use of the names and information.

In fantasy sports, the actual statistics are used to determine the results in fantasy leagues, where managers draft the players onto their teams. Without the statistics, of course, fantasy leagues die.

Baseball argues the players’ names are used for profit. The fantasy sports league counters it’s a matter of free speech.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis — that’s St. Louis as in the home of the smartest and most rabid baseball fans in America — sides with the free-speech argument (See pdf of the decision here), upholding an order from last year that rejected baseball’s claim that “use of such data without a license was a breach of its rights, obtained in 2005 from the Major League Baseball Players Association.”

Ironically, fantasy sports has helped propel professional sports to its popularity. It’s become a billion-dollar-a-year business. It is estimated that up to 30 million people play (or are addicted to) fantasy football alone.

Baseball has not said whether it will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Hat tip: Hardball Times)

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