Case Notes

NBA v. Motorola and STATS, Inc.: The Second Circuit Properly Limits the "Hot News Doctrine"


Alan D. Lieb


VOL. XVI • Fall 1997 • NO. 1 (table of contents)

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16 John Marshall J. of Comp. & Info. Law 197


The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently handed down a decision which can be seen as a victory for supporters of free dissemination on the Internet. At issue was whether dissemination of real-time sports data infringed the NBA's copyright of broadcast material, and if not whether the use of NBA game statistics was a misappropriation of the NBA's property.

In 1994, Motorola teamed up with STATS (Sports Team Analysis and Tracking Systems of Missouri, Inc.) to provide real-time updates of professional sports scores and information to subscribers of pagers as well as on-line services. STATS also provides sports information to the press such as ESPN and Turner Sports. In 1996 the NBA sued STATS and Motorola alleging that the transmission of real-time information violated The NBA right of "ownership" of the games' scores and other statistics. The NBA also asserted that STATS and Motorola's activities infringed the NBA's copyright in their broadcasts as well as in the actual games themselves.

The Second Circuit dismissed the misappropriation claim and ruled that the games themselves are not copyrightable. This decision means that sports leagues cannot claim they own the exclusive rights to real-time game information as long as the games are broadcast live. More importantly, the decision will allow businesses to use the Internet to rapidly disseminate information that is in the public domain to consumers and not be held liable for misappropriation.

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