Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sweat of the brow beaten by lazy footy scrapers

Thanks to Leslie Nassar for alerting me to last Monday's Media Watch, which featured a segment on live Australian sports scores, something close to my heart with my FanFooty business. The piece (transcript, video) detailed a sting operation that statistical provider Sportsdata played on two of its rivals. In short, Sportsdata put bogus data in its XML feed and then caught Sportal and Cadability with the same bogus information on their customer Web sites. They sent the smoking gun to Media Watch and let them off the leash with exchanges of correspondence with accusations of plagiarism and conflicts of interest flying everywhere.

Quite what Media Watch was doing in the middle of this is a bit of a question, seeing as it had nothing to do with journalism or plagiarism. As Cadability pointed out in its reply, Australian case law has established that facts and figures are not copyrightable. The only thing that has been broken here is the oft-mentioned 2003 "agreement" for its competitors not to scrape data from Sportsdata's servers. That agreement is based on a guess as to what the law would be if it went to court, since there is no Australian law that applies directly to the issue of whether live sporting statistics have more protection under IP law than the same statistics after the games have finished.

It may be that Sportsdata does hold some copyright over that data according to the "sweat of the brow" doctrine re-affirmed in Desktop Marketing Systems Pty Ltd v Telstra Corporation Limited, which has been obsolete in places like America for a while but still holds sway in European and Australian law. But then again, it may not. And this may just be a case of a grubby commercial spat being played out in the media by a bunch of cut-throat businesses where nobody can claim the high moral ground, and Media Watch has allowed itself to be used as a pawn in their sordid little game.


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