Question on sports broadcast copyrights

You always hear the “this is a copyrighted broadcast and can’t be reproduced, rebroadcasted…” etc…

Is it copyrighted as it is being broadcast? Before? After?

Just something that’s been going through my mind for a bit…


Presumably as the broadcast is going on, it is being taped. Once you put something on tape, you are putting the material into a fixed medium and it’s subject to copyright law.

… and any republication of the pictures or accounts of this game without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball are prohibited.

“Hey Bob, how did the Cubs do?”

“Phillies won, 3-2 in the 12th inning”.

“OK, pal”, snapping on the handcuffs, “you’re coming with me down to the station”.

Well, you won’t get arrested for copyright infringment. The more likely final line to your scenario would be:

[lawyer approaches Bob]OK, Bub, consider yourself served. See ya in court…

Zev Steinhardt

Aside from the civil/criminal distinction zev already pointed out, this is pretty much true. I did technical consulting for a company in the early 90s which was providing sports scores to pagers. You could sign up for the service to keep you alerted to the score of a particular game every few minutes. They were shut down by lawsuits because even the score of a MLB or NBL game is copyrighted and this company would have had to pay an enormous license fee to legally distribute them. They faced a lengthy legal battle to try to define themselves as journalists with fair use.

That’s pretty extreme… What about newspapers or sports broadcasters on TV? Is it against the copyright to inform other people through mass media who won a game (not using any specifics such as the score)

That’s the point of my last sentence. IANAL or a seer, so I don’t know how this would have turned out. The company’s position was that they were essentially journalists with fair use. The leagues’ position was that the company was making a profit illegally distributing copyrighted material. I believe the leagues made a distinction between real-time updates during a game and after-the-fact reporting of scores.

Maybe the company would have won the suit, but they didn’t have the resources to fight. Other companies came along later and did much the same thing. There were several alpha-pager services that provided scores and other updates. I don’t know whether they were challenged or how they addressed the issue, but the company I knew could not afford to prove they had a right to exist. This is the way the legal system works.

Micco is right. Not that I agree with it but the reason MLB took action against the pager company is none other than $$.

Since Fox, ESPN and local TV and Radio stations pay premium bucks to broadcast these games they need as many people viewing/listening as possible to maximize their ad revenue. Since the beeper subsciber doesn’t need to find a radio or TV he bypasses all of their advertising. Of course for a fee MLB will gladly give you permission.

Do happen to remember how much $$ MLB was asking?

I notice that you never get scores from other sports on the Network sport broadcasts unless that chanel broadcasts both sports. Even then it is not a guarentee they will show it.

Clayon_e, my guess is that they already have the agreements they need to give you the scores/highlights for the season. You know, “The expressed written consent…”.

Offhand, before going to look things up, I seem to remember hearing about those cases in Copyright class. As I recall, it was argued that the score of a sporting event is a fact, and facts cannot be copyrighted.

There was a Supreme Court ruling, Feist Publishing versus Rural Telephone that stated facts are not subject to copyright. It had to do with publishing telephone directories however.

I’m wondering how networks can show short clips of sporting events covered by the other networks. Is there some sort of agreement among them?

Just a WAG, but I’m willing to bet that’s covered under fair use, just the same way a book reviewer can quote small sections of the book that is being reviewed.

Zev Steinhardt

I don’t remember and may not have even known at the time. I was a subcontractor developing the software to link to the pagers, so I had no involvement on the business side. Sorry I can’t do more than relate what I’ve said so far.

I do remember the “scores are facts” argument. I think the rebuttal was that the final score was a “fact” but the score during play was part of the entertainment covered by their broadcast rights. While I disagree, I can see the argument since everything that happens during a game is essentially a fact. If a score isn’t protectable, how about if I generate my own play by play? How about just a clip of the big play? How about just a “highlight” clip of every play, without all the walking around and butt-slapping between plays? It seems like a good lawyer could extend the “scores are facts” to blow away all the leagues’ rights.

I’ve seen baseball scores on crawls during CBS football broadcasts. And ESPN runs scores of everything, although ESPN shows just about everything. But for years, they ran NBA scores before they got the rights to the NBA.

If a broadcast network doesn’t show scores of other sports I think it’s either because:

  1. they don’t want to hassle with any more graphics than they have to

  2. the people who run the sport being shown don’t want any other scores being shown.

But in nearly every sports venue now, scores of sporting events of all types are displayed.

BobT, I’ll have to recheck this next time. I knew that ESPN and FS showed all sport scores but I don’t remember any of the Networks doing this. I figured that ESPN/FS were given the written consent from all major sports since they do Sports Center and the like.

I’m curious as to what the result would have been had the providers miccio mentions not caved. A bedrock principle of copyright law is that facts are not protectable. The reports of scores sure seem like facts to me, and I would expect that the courts would think the same thing, but it’s close enough to a non-frivolous argument that it’d take time and money to resolve. I’m pretty sure that better-funded litigants have won this case since.


I don’t think so. There is usually a list of networks and stations being thanked at the end of Sportscenter and similar shows. And pay-per-view boxing matches are never excerpted, which leads me to believe that permission is not granted for them and fair use doesn’t cover them. Olympic coverage is also extremely restricted, usually to interviews and still shots rather than excerpts.

Here is a good summary of the controversy concerning paging services. Keep in mind that we are talking about a lot more than just scores here; these services transmit detailed play-by-play.

Note that the NBA did not allege copyright infringement, because of the “facts” defense, but rather “misappropriation” of their TV broadcasts. (I assume that the paging service had to get its info off of TV, rather than from the stadium, because the teams control what you do on their property and if they catch you transmitting without their permission, they can throw you out.)

Unfortunately this article is several years old. Does anyone know if any other courts have ruled on this issue in the years since?