Nobody owns basic league stats


There’s no need to cite statistics like this found on websites, such as

I get all sorts of sports questions but few that are so glaringly bizarre that I squint, furrow my brow and figuratively scratch my head, wondering whether I heard the student’s words correctly. In essence, he asked whether journalists can use league stats posted on websites. Apparently, this person had been scolded for using basic statistics posted on MLB and ESPN websites

The quick answer: Yes, he could use this league data because one can’t copyright facts. And that’s precisely what statistics really are: A numerical representation of player and team performances – not unlike a politician’s election results across various precincts.The Supreme Court agreed when it turned down a writ of certiorari related to C.B.C v. MLBAM in 2008, thus allowing a circuit ruling to stand. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had previously said that “the information used in CBC’s fantasy baseball games is all readily available in the public domain, and it would be strange law that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone.” Ultimately, these league facts are protected by the First Amendment.

Not all sports stats are public domain, though. Those who use basic stats to create new data (namely sabermetricians at websites such as FanGraphs, FiveThirtyEightBeyond The Boxscore, and The Hardball Times) should get credited for yielding original results, revealing new insights and telling new stories about players, teams and leagues.

So feel free to cite basic statistical information, such as rushing yards, field-goal percentage and shots on goals, without attribution, but always cite those who build on this data.


About jgisondi

I am the author of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports," the second edition now available from Congressional Quarterly Press/SAGE, and "Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot" (U of Nebraska Press). Field Guide to Covering Sports, Second Edition goes beyond general guidance about sports writing, offering readers practical advice on covering 20 specific sports. From auto racing to wrestling, author Joe Gisondi gives tips on the seemingly straightforward—like where to stand on the sideline and how to identify a key player—along with the more specialized—such as figuring out shot selection in lacrosse and understanding a coxswain’s call for a harder stroke in rowing. In the new Second Edition, readers also explore sports reporting across multimedia platforms, developing a foundational understanding for social media, mobile media, visual storytelling, writing for television and radio, and applying sabermetrics. Fully revised with new examples and updated information to give readers confidence in covering just about any game, match, meet, race, regatta or tournament, Field Guide to Covering Sports, Second Edition is the ideal go-to resource to have on hand when mastering the beat. In "Monster Trek," Joe Gisondi brings to life the celebrities in bigfoot culture: people such as Matt Moneymaker, Jeff Meldrum, and Cliff Barackman, who explore remote wooded areas of the country for weeks at a time and spend thousands of dollars on infrared imagers, cameras, and high-end camping equipment. Pursuing the answer to why these seekers of bigfoot do what they do, Gisondi brings to the reader their most interesting—and in many cases, harrowing—expeditions. You can order both from Amazon.
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