Monday, June 18, 2007

The Economy of a Name

The Biz of Baseball has a summary of the court proceedings in the case of CBC Marketing and Distribution v. MLB Advanced Media. Essentially, MLBAM has a contract with the MLB Player's Association (that's the union, folks) that grants MLBAM the exclusive right to use player names in online gaming, including fantasy baseball. CDM is suing on the basis that this violates their First Ammendment rights.

Essentially, the argument is that the players have a right to control who uses their name to make a profit, including the restriction of using their names in association with their statistics. Interestingly, they are not arguing that the statistics cannot be used. They are arguing that the statistics cannot be used in conjunction with player names.

I don't want to argue about whether or not this is a silly case or whether or not MLB is being far too uptight. They certainly are. In my opinion, MLB should let these games continue because they increase interest in their far more lucrative on-field product. Everyone wins. However, MLB has a right to be stupid, I suppose. (I might add that they seem to exercise this right a lot.)

At first blush, the argument that player names and statistics may not be associated without permission of MLBAM seems to be silly. After all, player names and statistics have been printed in newspapers everywhere for years upon years. The judge so far seems to be falling on the side of CDM (as a lower court has already) by asserting that it's ridiculous to allow the use of statistics without the use of player names. In fact, he believes that this is an attempt by MLBAM to assert a monopoly over an unrelated segment of entertainment.

Let's ignore the also interesting questions about the economic soundness of anti-trust law and the idea that somehow this is an entertainment market unrelated to baseball. MLBAM's response bears looking at:
The only reason these game are valuable and marketable is precisely because these are major league baseball player names attached to those statistics. If you used ‘Player A’, ‘Player B’, no one would be interested in playing the game. The game is interesting precisely because people feel they are owning and managing real major league players.
This is absolutely, 100% true. In fact, it's so true that I have to agree with MLBAM's argument. I can see no reason why a company should be allowed to make a profit off of the names of Major League Baseball players without their consent. The statistics only have worth inasmuch as they are associated with an MLB player. Why should CDM be allowed to reap all the benefits of the players' fame without shouldering any of the risk, as MLB, MLBAM, and the MLBPA have?

On the other hand, I can see the flip side. Magazines, newspapers, cable networks, etc all make gobs of money by reporting on famous people without their consent. Tabloids the world over make money by publishing photos and written accounts of celebrity activity. How is fantasy baseball different?

All of this brings us to some very interesting questions:
  1. Does a person have a right to control how their name is used by others?
  2. If so, how can this be reconciled with the freedom of the press that we are so proud of in the United States?
  3. If not, how is it just that someone can appropriate my namesake for their own private gain?
It seems to me that there must exist some balance between using the names of private citizens for profit and using the names of government officials, who one can argue have implicitly surrendered this right by taking public office. I just have no idea where this balance is.

3 comments:

die Amerikanerin said...

Hey, John, I thought I'd leave a comment so that you know where I am. I did read your post, though. You raise some interesting questions at the end, but I don't have any idea either.

John Lynch said...

Sadly, I had to think for a second before I figured out who you were. Isn't that terrible?

Also, I already knew you were in Germany.

die Amerikanerin said...

You notice I didn't tell you I was in Germany, so obviously I ment my blog. ^_~

And I am horribly offended you didn't work out who I was right at once. What sort of brother are you? Ha ha.