The NBA today filed suit against AOL (AMER) in New York federal court, claiming that the online service is selling game scores and highlights without paying for them.
But AOL launched a preemptive strike on August 8 and sued the NBA in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, challenging the association's right to bar it and other electronic services from reporting up-to-the minute scores.
AOL's suit was filed in response to a federal judge's decision last month that barred Motorola from providing a similar service to its pager customers. AOL posts online scores with continually updated statistics, provided by Sports Team Analysis & Tracking Systems, on its proprietary service. The company, STATS, also provided statistics for Motorola.
To the NBA, the bottom line is money. The suit charges AOL with "misappropriation" of the NBA's "proprietary data under state law."
According to the league's complaint, AOL's broadcast "amounts to a flagrant taking of the essence of the NBA's most valuable property: real-time NBA game information." The basketball association is asking for unspecified damages.
But to AOL, the bottom line comes down to the First Amendment and its rights to cover games in the same way that newspapers and television stations do, said David Phillips, a staff attorney at AOL.
The Motorola case "established a dangerous precedent," Phillips said today. "We wanted a court of law to consider our service. We think there are some very clear First Amendment arguments. No one owns the facts of an online event.
"The broader principle here is very important, not just for AOL but for other online services and newspapers," Phillips said. "Newspapers are moving to the online world. They are expecting that the same type of First Amendment protections will apply in this medium."
But the NBA suit contends that online services are different from newspapers because they provide up-to-the minute, live reporting. NBA officials declined to comment beyond their complaint.