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The Confluence of Copyright and Sports

The Confluence of Copyright and Sports by Keith Kupferschmid

April 23, 2019

I am a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan. I became a fan in the late 70’s. In 1979, I can recall sitting on the red and orange shag carpeting in the den of the house I grew up in, with my back against the lime green vinyl couch, watching my “Bucs” led by Willie “Pops” Stargell win the World Series (and maybe their last World Series ever, unless MLB changes the rules to improve parity). It was way past my bedtime and the rest of the house was sleeping soundly when Kent “Teke” Tekulve got Baltimore Oriole Pat Kelly to fly out to fleet-footed Centerfielder Omar Moreno to complete the victory. They would have brief brushes with greatness in the early 90’s followed by 20 years of futility until 2013’s Wild Card game against the Reds – the BLACKOUT, the best sporting event I ever attended – but have never returned to the World Series since ‘79. Through the few ups and the many downs, I have supported my team (despite having no real connection to the city of Pittsburgh), because that is what being a fan means.

So why I am writing about the Pirates on our copyright blog? Because, like in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates stadium meets at the confluence of the Allegheny River, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, on April 26, I will celebrate the confluence of my three passions in life — family, sports and copyright. I celebrate family because April 26 is my son’s birthday, and I celebrate sports and copyright because April 26 is also World Intellectual Property Day, and this year’s theme is Reach for Gold: IP and Sports.

For me, when I am not doing one, I am usually doing the other. My days are filled trying to make the world a better place for large and small creators by ensuring the fruits of their creative juices are effectively protected by copyright, and that they can earn a living and make a career from their creativity. And then I go home and try to wind down by watching my beloved Pirates or New York Giants (or another NFL team if one of my FFL players is playing), or tuning into March Madness, the Washington Wizards or Capitols, the Masters, or the Olympics. While my intention is to relax at the end of a long day, my passion for sports usually results in quite the opposite effect.

I know I am not alone in my avid fandom. There are millions like me. Sports is a $300 billion-plus industry. It creates communities for fans to share their frustrations and their joys through blogs and radio talk shows. It allows fans to listen to or view games live whenever and wherever they want on radio, TV or their streaming device when they can’t get to the stadium or the arena. It allows fans to keep up to date with their favorite team if they miss the game through the sports news broadcasts and newspaper articles and box scores. It allows fans to get greater insights into their favorite players and teams and to relive past glories and heroes long gone through books, magazine articles and movies. It allows fans to show their support by buying memorabilia and jerseys. It brings friends and communities together through sports video games and eSport competitions.

When I first became a fan of the Pirates, the only ways to catch the games was to try listening to them on the radio through the Pittsburgh radio station KDKA, which is not an easy task from a house in the burbs outside of New York or to hope that the Pirates might be playing in the “Game of the Week” that Saturday, which was a rare occurrence. And occasionally, there would be Pirates highlights shown on “This Week in Baseball.” I would enthusiastically review the box scores in our local paper, but since the games usually ended late at night, the box scores were typically published more than day later. And I would look forward to the Sunday paper when the stats for all of MLB would be published so I could see where my Bucs stacked up against the rest of the league.

But thankfully. sports spurs innovation. Leagues, teams their partners and others involved in the content industry are constantly looking for new ways to give fans what they want. So, eventually, I was able to follow the games more closely with the advent of ESPN and then through a Motorola Sports Trax pager that I got as a present (and since this is an IP blog I will point out that there was litigation involving the pager). Not long thereafter came the internet and the ability to a get up-to-date game information and so much more. That was followed by the MLB Extra Innings package through DirecTV that allowed me to watch Pirates games from anywhere. And then, of course, streaming apps on my phone that allow me to watch and listen to the games anywhere at any time. And now the MLB has its own station too, so I can watch the highlights if I miss a game.

Sports doesn’t just spur innovation. It also creates hundreds of thousands of jobs in the publishing, broadcasting, video game and many other copyright-related industries. Sports helps employ journalists, broadcasters, authors, announcers, photojournalists and media photographers, filmmakers and TV producers, video game creators, bloggers, program hosts, eSports, dancers, painters and so many more.

It is fitting that WIPO chose this World IP Day to celebrate IP and Sports. Most people probably do not realize how the two are so intimately connected. They may not know how important the protections afforded by copyright and trademark protection are to sports leagues and teams, and to their partners. They may not know how sports has driven innovation in so many areas over the past decades and how it will continue to do so. Hopefully, this year’s World IP Day celebration of the confluence of sports and IP will enlighten more people about this important relationship. But after all it is just a one-day celebration (although we at the Copyright Alliance celebrate the whole week), because we all understand that after April 26 most fans will want to turn their attention back to their favorite team.

Let’s go Bucs!


Photo credit: JackieNix/iStock

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