CBS sues NFL Players Association over fantasy football
Editor’s note: U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery ruled April 28, 2009, that CBS Interactive’s First Amendment right to use NFL players’ names and statistics outweighed the defendants’ right of publicity. The NFL Players Association is appealing the decision.
MINNEAPOLIS — CBS has filed a federal lawsuit to establish its right to use without charge the statistics that underlie fantasy football leagues.
The lawsuit filed Sept. 3 in district court in Minneapolis by the network's online operation claims that the NFL Players Association has threatened to sue the company if it does not pay licensing fees for the statistics.
CBS seeks a court ruling saying that “the Players Association may not seek to control the use of player statistics in fantasy games and may not continue to extract money from CBS Interactive for the use of publicly available football statistics.”
The lawsuit said CBS had paid a licensing fee to the players in the past, but stopped when its most recent deal expired on Feb. 29. The company decided that it did not need to pay the fee because of a ruling from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis in a similar lawsuit involving fantasy baseball. In that case, the court ruled that a Missouri-based company didn't need to pay a licensing fee to Major League Baseball players for its fantasy baseball games. In June, the Supreme Court declined to review the case, letting the appeals court ruling stand.
The baseball players argued they were entitled to profit from the commercial use of their names.
NFL Players Association attorney Jeffrey Kessler had no comment on Sept. 5 because he had just received the lawsuit. Alex Riethmiller, a spokesman for CBSSports.com, said, “CBS does not comment on pending litigation.”
In fantasy sports, participants draft teams of real-life players and compete against other owners, using the players' statistics each week during the season.
The federal courts in Minneapolis have been a frequent venue for cases involving the NFL Players Association, including a ruling in February that allowed suspended quarterback Michael Vick to keep $16.5 million in bonuses.
The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge David Doty, has long handled matters arising from the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement with its players and has developed special expertise on the topic.