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Supreme Court rejects fantasy baseball dispute

High court declines to hear Major League Baseball's intellectual property challenge against a Missouri company that sells fantasy baseball products by Web, e-mail, and phone.

Major League Baseball has struck out in its attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intercede in a fantasy baseball dispute.

The justices on Monday said they won't take up MLB's challenge, backed by the National Football League Players Association, of prior court rulings favoring a fantasy league company. The announcement came without comment in a standard list of case statuses published by the high court (PDF).

MLB's Internet media arm, later joined by the pro-baseball players' union, had claimed that C.B.C. Distribution and Marketing--a Missouri company that sells fantasy sports products via the Web, e-mail, regular mail, and phone--was using baseball players' names and statistics without a license, thereby violating the players' rights to publicity under state intellectual property laws. (A right to publicity, of course, is a person's right to control and profit from the commercial use of his name and likeness.)

The original lawsuit actually came from C.B.C. The company sued MLB after the pro baseball association began providing fantasy baseball games on its own Web site. MLB offered C.B.C. a license only to promote MLB's products, not to continue selling its own fantasy baseball games. Fearing a lawsuit from MLB if it continued business as usual, C.B.C. filed its own suit.

C.B.C. won at the district court level and again last year at the appeals court level, which held that the company's "first amendment rights in offering its fantasy baseball products supersede the players' rights of publicity."