A technology trade group has filed a U.S. Federal Trade Commission complaint against two professional sports leagues and four corporations, saying the groups violate consumers’ fair-use rights under U.S. copyright law.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) complained that the copyright warnings from the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NBC Universal and other companies trample on fair-use rights that allow consumers to copy portions of copyright works for criticism, commentary, educational and other reasons. CCIA called for an FTC investigation into the copyright warnings.
The companies use copyright warnings on broadcasts, books and DVDs “not to educate consumers, but to intimidate them,” said Ed Black, CCIA’s president. “Certain warnings mislead consumers.”
Major League Baseball’s copyright warning says broadcasts “may not be reproduced or retransmitted in any form, and the accounts and descriptions of this game may not be disseminated without express written consent.”
CCIA wants “balanced” copyright enforcement, but the warnings are unfair and deceptive, Black said. “No deceptive message may be more widespread, more pervasive, more ubiquitous in our vast nation than the copyright warning which tells you that you have no rights,” he said.
The copyright warnings impede adoption of new and innovative products from the technology industry, Black added.
Such warnings overstep the owner’s copyrights, CCIA said. The baseball warning would suggest that bloggers couldn’t describe a home run in a game they watched, or a fan couldn’t talk about a game with co-workers, Black said.
The copyright warnings would suggest that showing clips of films in a classroom is illegal when it’s fair use, Black added.
The complaint, filed Tuesday, also named movie studio DreamWorks Animation and book publishers Harcourt and Penguin Group. The companies in the complaint represent the most “blatant” abusers of copyright warnings, Black said.
This is the first FTC complaint about the copyright warnings, but the agency has a history of investigating deceptive claims by U.S. companies, the CCIA said.
But Patrick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, questioned the CCIA complaint, saying the group hasn’t shown how the warnings have hurt consumers. “The first thing I’d like to know is, what is the demonstrated harm?” asked Ross, whose group advocates for strong copyright protections. “We’ve had these football warnings all our lives.”
Copyright Alliance members include the Motion Picture Association of America, NBC Universal and the National Music Publishers’ Association, as well as Major League Baseball and the NFL.
A better plan would be to educate consumers on their fair-use rights, Ross said. Consumers can exercise their fair-use rights regardless of what the warnings say, he said.
This article was updated at 6:20 p.m. ET to add reaction from Copyright Alliance.