JC / Railbird

In the Public Domain

The Supreme Court squashed Major League Baseball’s attempt to maintain exclusive control of player statistics, turning down its appeal of an Eighth Circuit Court ruling that allowed fantasy baseball leagues to use the data without paying a licensing fee. “The information used in … fantasy baseball games is all readily available in the public domain,” said the appeals court, “and it would be strange law that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone.”

Well, this is interesting … and most definitely relevant to the industry. Applied to racing, this ruling could be interpreted to mean that almost all data in the past performances and results charts are in the public domain, as are simple statistics and compilations derived from publicly available data (which makes it ridiculous that Equibase buries historical charts behind a paywall), but not presentation of the data or statistics, figures, and analysis derived using proprietary methods (such as speed figures).

CBSSports.com responded to the Supreme Court’s decision by launching a new site that makes available data for baseball, as well as football, basketball, hockey, and auto racing. I’d love to see a similar initiative in racing. As baseball stats wizard Bill James said,

People take information and build knowledge. When you give them new information they will create new knowledge, absolutely and without question.

Free data and historical stats, that’s the way to build the fan base.


Woo-hoo! Common sense prevails … it’s too bad that there aren’t more people interested in racing who might want to mount a similar legal challenge. Thanks for posting, Jessica —

Posted by Brooklyn Backstretch on June 5, 2008 @ 9:43 am

i’ve thought about doing this … i can scrape the charts from equibase, further i can even scrape the data from them in pdf to something a bit less proprietary and more web friendly. if i started such a website, with charts obtained freely from equibase and made that information available, freely for as long back as the day i started, would that website be legal? believe it or not the automation to run such a site would be virtually nil.

Posted by o_crunk on June 5, 2008 @ 11:39 am

o_crunk — I’ve thought about doing the same thing and wondered the same thing.
If one just made the charts searchable based on track and date the effort would be minimal but extracting that data and making it all searchable would be where the real cost of effort would come in … but I’ll definitely share my charts if you’re interested!

Posted by dana on June 5, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

It’s my sense that such a site, as long as the data was stripped of anything proprietary and presented in a different layout, would be ok, but I’m not an intellectual property lawyer and it’s a safe bet Equibase holds a contrary opinion, which they’d probably inform you of quickly. There’s some precedent, though — in his memoir, Steven Crist tells of Racing Times employees entering data from Daily Racing Form charts (this was back when DRF was the exclusive collector of racing data) to build the new paper’s database. Of course, he was backed by a publishing magnate …

Posted by Jessica on June 5, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

i’m sure equibase would think differently, but it’s something i’ve had in mind for quite sometime for a couple of reasons:

– because the information needs to be freely available in the worst way IMHO.

– because i think there’s possibilities in displaying chart information in something other than a pdf. i have a vague idea in my head revolving around some sort of xml, which would let others truly do whatever they wanted with the data (no more comma garbage files) … particularly to develop new guis. but this requires A LOT of work and upkeep, though it may be possible to map and automate — harder even is just creating the data structure.

– because no one else is doing.

Posted by o_crunk on June 5, 2008 @ 5:54 pm