Sports leagues accused of deceptive warnings

Complaint, expected to be filed with FTC, claims warnings against "unauthorized" copying are meant to intimidate average Joes.

A handful of sports leagues and media companies are trying to intimidate the public when issuing inaccurate warnings about making "unauthorized" copies of their work, according to a complaint expected to be filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

The complaint, expected to be submitted Wednesday by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group that represents such tech giants as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, names the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NBC-Universal, Morgan Creek Productions, DreamWorks, Harcourt and Penguin.

An example of what CCIA is referring to is the little speech TV or radio announcers make during breaks in games. Most sports fans can recite at least a smidgen of the boilerplate.

"Any rebroadcast, reproduction or other use of the pictures and accounts of this game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited," is the MLB's copyright warning.

While the statements have become a tradition during professional football and baseball broadcasts, the CCIA claims such statements are false and are harmful to consumers and technology companies. Similar warnings can be found in books, CDs and DVDS, according to the CCIA.

"These warnings intimidate average people and hinder free expression," the CCIA in a statement. "They depict as illegal many legitimate and beneficial uses made possible by the high-tech industry, and cast a pall over the high-tech marketplace...These ubiquitous statements often include gross misrepresentations of federal law and characterize as unlawful acts that are explicitly permitted by law."

CCIA has asked the FTC to put an end to such practices.

Mark Litvack, a copyright attorney at the Los Angeles firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said that he doubts CCIA is going to get anywhere with the complaint.

"In most of the warnings, all they are saying is that unauthorized copying is illegal and it almost always is," said Litvack, who has represented such copyright owners as Sony, Time Warner and Disney. "For example, you're allowed to make a backup copy for your own use. I'm not aware of any law that says you are allowed to make a copy to share with a friend. That has never been held to be legal."

It's unlikely that many people pay attention to the copyright warnings. But if the issue seems a tad granular, it's only the latest example of how far tech companies and copyright holders are willing to go to defend their turf in the ongoing battle over copyright law.

Copyright is one of the burning issues in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, with court cases such as the one between YouTube and Viacom and the motion picture's copyright suit against TorrentSpy, a BitTorrent search engine.

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