Tuesday, December 11, 2001
Constitution Protects Baseball’s Right to Promote Players, C.A. Rules
Oldtime Players Bid for Share of Licensing Revenue Rejected on First Amendment Grounds
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Major League Baseball has a constitutional right to promote the names, likenesses, and accomplishments of its players without their consent, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The court rejected a pair of consolidated lawsuits by players from the game’s past, who claimed they were entitled to a share of the millions of dollars MLB earns by marketing products that contain the players’ names or photographs.
The suits were brought by players who toiled in the 1930s and 1940s, before the era of huge licensing fees and collective bargaining.
One suit was brought in Alameda Superior Court by Seymour Block, who played in 17 games for the Chicago Cubs in the 1940s; Pete Coscarart, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates; Dolph Camilli, winner of the 1941 National League Most Valuable Player award with the Brooklyn Dodgers; Frank Crosetti, who infielder and coach for the New York Yankees; and Al Gionfriddo, known for the catch that robbed Yankee Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio of a home run in the 1947 World Series.
Gionfriddo also filed a separate suit in San Francisco Superior Court, raising similar issues.
Judge Demetrios Agretelis denied class-action certification in the Alameda suit, in which the plaintiffs charged that MLB and its marketers have illegally used their “names, voices, signatures, photographs and/or likenesses” on “books, films, trading cards, collector merchandise, memorabilia, and apparel” without their consent and without compensation.
The plaintiffs all performed in the big leagues prior to 1947, the year that the standard player contract was amended to require the players to give up publicity rights to the clubs. The denial of class-action certification was upheld on appeal three years ago.
Court of Appeal Justice Mark Simons, writing for the First District’s Div. Five, extolled the players for their skill and accomplishments. But the public, he said, “is…entitled to be informed and entertained about our history.”
The players’ rights of privacy and to control their own publicity, he said, cannot take precedence over the reporting of history, just as it cannot be used to bar journalists from reporting about the games, the justice said.
The case is Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, A091113.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company