MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Yahoo! Inc. has sued the NFL players’ union over its policy of charging for the use of player photos, stats and other information which the web engine uses in relation to its popular fantasy football leagues.
In a federal lawsuit filed this week in Minnesota, Yahoo seeks declaratory judgment that the union and one of its exclusive licensing agents may not “extract money” for the publicly available information, relying on the First Amendment and federal copyright law.
“Yahoo need not be authorized by Players Inc. to used the publicly available names, likenesses … pictures, photographs, voices, facsimile signatures and/or biographical information … of individual NFL players in connection with its fantasy football game,” the complaint states.
The union, NFL Players Association, grants agent NFL Players Inc. certain licensing rights, the complaint says. In exchange, Players gives the association a certain percentage of its earnings. Players also licenses additional, third parties to sell products featuring NFL players.
Yahoo was previously licensed with NFL Players Inc., one of the named defendants, to use player information. However, the license expired March 1. Prior to the expiration, Players Inc. threatened Yahoo with litigation if it continued to use the data afterwards. However, according to the complaint, Yahoo proceeded without one, empowered by a ruling in a similar case, also filed in Minnesota.
The complaint says the earlier suit, filed by fellow fantasy football provider CBS Interactive against the same defendants, contained similar allegations. The court found in favor of CBS, ruling that “the provider of a fantasy football game did not require a license from Players Inc. in order to operate a game that used player names, statistics, images and other information.”
Yahoo’s attempts to get Players Inc. to back down, citing the CBS case ruling as leverage, were unsuccessful the complaint states. Meanwhile, the CBS case ruling has been appealed. Yahoo seeks judgment that it is not violating any “right of publicity” owned or controlled by NFL players, and that such right of publicity interpreted broadly enough to encompass Yahoo’s actions is superseded by the First Amendment and is preempted by federal copyright law.
According to the complaint, tens of thousands of people participate in fantasy football in Minnesota alone. Yahoo is represented by S. Jamal Faleel of Fredrikson & Byron.