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Sling called out by Major League Baseball

MLB's general counsel tells The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. that it's studying its options to respond to a device that lets users watch out-of-market games.

Is watching an out-of-market baseball game illegal? Potentially yes, according to Major League Baseball.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. a lawyer for the league's Advanced Media division said Slingbox's capability to placeshift MLB content--that is, allow owners to watch their subscription channels from a remote location--is illegal, and MLB is mulling a lawsuit.

MLB says using the Slingbox to watch out-of-market baseball games is illegal. Sling Media

"Of course, what they are doing is not legal," MLB general counsel Michael Mellis told the publication. "We and other leagues have formed a group to study the issue and plan our response. A lot depends on ongoing discussions. Plus, there's no guarantee that Slingbox will be around next year. It's a start-up."

In response, Sling Media told CNET that allowing anyone besides the owner to access a Slingbox is a violation of the device's end-user licensing agreement, and that if anything, the ability to watch one's home team play when out of town or at the office, "creates a much tighter bond" between a fan and his or her baseball team and local broadcasting team.

The Consumer Electronics Association has vigorously come to Sling's defense. "This is a classic instance of copyright owners trying to suppress innovation purely because it empowers consumers," CEA President Gary Shapiro said in a statement. "There is no infringement or piracy here--consumers are simply watching content they lawfully purchase (or receive free over-the-air) in a different physical location."

This is not the first time Sling has taken heat for allegedly flouting broadcasting rules. A year ago MLB's vice president of business accused Sling users of stealing from cable operators that have paid to broadcast local games. And Home Box Office's CTO Bob Zitter commented at the National Association of Broadcasters last year that "content owners don't like it (Sling) because they think it violates their copyrights." Yet none have moved to take Sling to court yet.

This also is not pro baseball's first time demonstrating its tight control over the broadcasting of its content. Right before the start of the 2007 season, the league made waves when it renegotiated the availability of its Extra Innings package with cable and satellite providers. Though the initial deal with DirecTV was on the path to being exclusive, shutting out other satellite customers from purchasing the league's out-of-market subscription package, MLB relented and agreed to continue partnering with other cable and satellite services.