Defeat for the US National Basketball Association (NBA) in a Manhattan court has given the green light to Internet service providers to post real time information on their sites.
The Manhattan case specifically involved an NBA lawsuit last year to prevent the activities of Stats Incorporated, which sends out live match scores to users of Motorola pagers. The NBA won the case when Judge Loretta Preska decided the Stats was guilty of misappropriation of NBA commercial property rights.
But last Thursday US Appeals Court judge Ralph Winter overturned that decision on appeal and ruled that the NBA does not own scores in games and as such, cannot prevent them being re-broadcast, using pagers or online networks.
The ruling has wider implications: had the lower court verdict been upheld, it could have been extended to cover any form of live event being transmitted across an online service, such as stock exchange quotes.
Herbert Schwartz, partner with Motorola?s lawyers Fish & Neave, said: "It?s a very broad-ranging and important decision on the ability of people and online sites to use facts that are in the public domain and use them essentially immediately."
America Online (AOL), which carries Stats figures on its service, is also being sued by the NBA, which is the exclusive licenser of all NBA-related material. That case was put on hold until the Motorola case was resolved, but Judge Winter said that his ruling also applied to AOL.
In his ruling, Winter said the NBA claim was merging three different products and ideas: the games, the radio and TV transmission of those games - which are protected by copyright law - and the re-transmission of collected data on the games, which he ruled was not protected by copyright.
Motorola?s case was based on the argument that it did not transmit proprietary, copyrighted information, but information that was already in the public domain because it was based on events that have already happened.
In his summation, Winter said: "There is no evidence that anyone regards [the Motorola pager service] or the AOL site as a substitute for attending NBA games or watching them on television."
But the NBA was defiant after the ruling was announced: it can still appeal to the US Supreme Court to have Winter?s decision overturned. Jeffery Mishkin, NBA legal officer, warned: "Today?s decision is just one stage in a long battle that we ultimately expect to win."
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