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Baltimore Orioles v. Major League Baseball Players Ass'n

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Citation

Baltimore Orioles, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Ass'n, 805 F.2d 663 (7th Cir. 1986) (full-text), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 941 (1987).

Factual Background

There was a long-standing dispute between the Major League Baseball Clubs (“Clubs”) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (“Players”) regarding the ownership of the broadcast rights to the Players' performances during major league baseball games. After decades of negotiations concerning the allocation of revenues from telecasts of the games, the Players in May of 1982 sent letters to the Clubs, and to television and cable companies with which the Clubs had contracted, asserting that the telecasts were being made without the Players' consent and that they misappropriated the Players' property rights in their performances. The mailing of these letters led the parties to move their dispute from the bargaining table to the courtroom.

Trial Court Proceedings

On June 14, 1982, the Clubs filed an action (entitled Baltimore Orioles, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Association) in which they sought a declaratory judgment that the Clubs possessed an exclusive right to broadcast the games and owned exclusive rights to the telecasts. Each count sought essentially the same relief, but was premised upon a different theory: Count I was based upon copyright law, in particular the “work made for hire” doctrine of 17 U.S.C. §201(b); Count II rested upon state master-servant law; Count III was predicated upon the collective bargaining agreement between the Clubs and the Players, including the Uniform Player's Contract; and Count IV was based upon the parties' customs and dealings.

On July 1, 1982, three major league players brought an action (entitled Rogers v. Kuhn) against the Clubs. The three players (whom is also referred to as the “Players”) sought a declaration that the game telecasts misappropriated their property rights in their names, pictures, and performances, and also asked for damages and injunctive relief. The Rogers complaint asserted six claims for relief, based upon the Players' alleged property rights in their names, pictures, and performances, the doctrine of unjust enrichment, and sections 50 and 51 of the New York Civil Rights Statute. After the trial court denied a motion to transfer the Baltimore Orioles action to New York, the parties stipulated to a transfer of the Rogers suit from New York to Chicago, and to consolidation of the two cases.

The parties moved for summary judgment on Counts I and II of the Baltimore Orioles complaint, which concerned the Clubs' copyright and master-servant claims. On May 23, 1985, the trial court granted the Clubs summary judgment on these two counts. On June 14, 1985, the Players filed a notice of appeal from the grant of summary judgment for the Clubs in the Baltimore Orioles action.

Appellate Court Proceedings

Players sought reconsideration of a decision that the Baltimore Orioles were exclusive owners of televised performances of major league baseball players during major league baseball games. The appellate court affirmed the judgment as to the clubs' ownership of copyrights in the telecasts. Since baseball players were employees, their televised and taped performances were within the scope of their employment. Telecasts of major league baseball games, which consisted of players' performances, were works made for hire.

Further, the court held that the Baltimore Orioles’ copyright in telecasts of major league baseball games preempted the players' rights of publicity in their baseball game performances. The appellate court vacated the lower court's decision that the Baltimore Orioles, as employers, retained all rights in their employees' work product.

The court could not determine from the record which state's law governed the master-servant claim, and the court remanded the case for the lower court to determine which state's law controlled.

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