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Yahoo! Sues NFL Players Association Before They Get Sued Themselves

Some news from the business side of fantasy football: Yahoo is suing the NFL Players Association over the right to use player stats and photos for free.

Yahoo Inc. has sued the NFL Players Association, claiming it shouldn't have to pay royalties to use players' statistics, photos and other data in its popular online fantasy football game because the information is already publicly available.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Yahoo filed its lawsuit Monday in federal court in Minneapolis.

According to the complaint, a licensing arm of the players union has threatened to sue Yahoo if it doesn't pay for the information. The last of Yahoo's licensing agreements with NFL Players Inc. expired March 1.

This was actually a pre-emptive strike by Yahoo, as they expected to be sued by the NFLPA for using the stats without a license.  The NFLPA lost a similar case against CBS Sportsline earlier in the year, but the NFLPA is appealing that.  In 2007, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that fantasy baseball stats and pictures were considered news and so Major League Baseball couldn’t charge companies to report "the news".  That case was generally considered to be the definitive legal answer that applied to all sports statistics and players, but the NFLPA is fighting on anyway.

This is simply a money issue for the union.  The NFL is expecting to see a couple of hard financial seasons, starting with this one.  Tickets aren’t selling which means stadiums aren’t filling which means games will be blacked-out which means revenue drops.  I understand the desire to earn some more money, but it’s too late for that.  The NFLPA is way off-base with this action.  Even MLB – which is probably the most shameless money-grubbing organization in professional sports – has given up this fight.

The only reason I bring this up is that it’s possible – very, very unlikely, but possible – that the NFLPA could convince some judge to issue an injunction that would force Yahoo to shut down their fantasy football game, which would obviously be a disaster for your fantasy league.  If you like Yahoo this news shouldn’t prevent you from using them to run your fantasy league, but keep in mind that they are being sued by the NFL Players Association.   That’s generally a bad thing.