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COURT RULES MOTOROLA, STATS, INC. CAN OFFER LIVE NBA SCORES
Published January 31, 1997
A federal appeals court ruled that Motorola and Stats, Inc. can transmit real-time NBA game scores and statistics taken from radio and TV broadcasts, according to Michael Rapoport of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The 3-0 ruling reversed a lower court ruling "which had enjoined" Motorola and Stats, Inc. from disseminating information over pager systems called Sportstrax and other online services. NBA Legal Counsel Jeffrey Mishkin said the league plans to appeal the ruling (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/31). HOT TEST: The appeals court ruled that the NBA had not met "a narrowly tailored 'hot news' test for prevailing on such a misappropriation claim." The court ruled that neither Motorola nor Stats were "free-riding" on the NBA's information. The court also ruled that while "broadcasts of athletic events are protected by copyright, the events themselves aren't because they aren't 'original works of authorship' under the law." The outcome isn't know in advance and "wholly unexpected events may influence it." The court said the ruling "applies equally" to an AOL site featuring information provided by Stats. Stats attorney Andrew Deutsch said he expects a separate NBA suit against AOL and Stats to be dropped (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/31). In N.Y., Lawrie Mifflin writes that the ruling "reiterated that the facts and scores of a basketball game were facts, and that under Federal copyright law, facts could not be copyrighted." In her ruling for the NBA, lower court Judge Loretta Preska noted the league's commercial property rights were being taken without compensation. But the appeals court ruled that the NBA claim "confuses three different products:" the games, radio and TV broadcasts of those games, and retransmission of "strictly factual information" about those games. The opinion said: "The first and second products are the N.B.A.'s primary business ... [but] there is no evidence that anyone regards Sportstrax or the AOL site as a substitute for attending N.B.A. games or watching them on television" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/31). REAX: On "Moneyline," CNN's Lou Dobbs called the ruling a "big legal victory" for Motorola. Dobbs noted the court "said the NBA failed to prove that it was harmed by the transmission of those scores." Dobbs added that the ruling could also be a "boon" to AOL ("Moneyline," CNN, 1/30). Motorola Attorney Herbert Schwartz: "It's also an important result for online providers and for the Internet because it also allows people like America Online to give updated scores in real time as the game goes on. ... It's important for the new media in terms of their ability to transmit facts promptly once those facts have been made public over TV or radio" ("Market Wrap," CNBC, 1/30). ESPN's Bob Ley noted the ruling was a "loss" for the NBA ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/30). In Chicago, Howard Wolinsky notes Stats and Motorola "scored big" with the ruling. As for Sportstrax, Motorola attorney Roger Dusberger said, "Sportstrax is a great product with a lot of pent-up demand. But Motorola management will need to re-evaluate whether and how to move forward with the product" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/31).