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High court rejects fantasy baseball challenge

The effect: Made-up leagues can keep using names and statistics of real players without paying licensing fees.

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A company that offers fantasy baseball games on the Internet has won its battle to use the names and performance statistics of Major League Baseball players without permission and without paying licensing fees.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case examining whether fantasy sports leagues are shielded from such requirements by the First Amendment.

Although the Supreme Court did not consider the merits of the case, by refusing to hear the appeal the high court leaves in place an earlier appeals court decision in St. Louis allowing the company to operate without the permission of the players and the league.

So-called fantasy sports leagues have proliferated over the past 15 years, growing from a weekend hobby for die-hard fans into a $1.5 billion industry with more than 15 million paying participants.

Football and baseball are the most popular. There are roughly 11 million fantasy football enthusiasts and 3 million fantasy baseball participants.

Fantasy sports competitions are also offered for basketball, hockey, soccer, golf, lacrosse, stock car racing, track and field, and even bowling.

The case before the high court – Major League Baseball Advanced Media v. CBC Distribution and Marketing – was a high-stakes battle between professional athletes and fantasy sports businesses. Ultimately the case involved striking a balance between free-speech guarantees and the publicity rights of famous people.

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