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Sunday, June 25, 2006
MLB Seeking Licensing Fees from Slingbox Maker

Eric Fisher of Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal (subscription only) reported last week that MLB Advanced Media is seeking licensing fees from Sling Media Inc., manufacturer of the popular Slingbox device (pictured to the right), for the distribution of televised baseball games. The Slingbox, which can be purchased by consumers for $200, is a device that geographically relocates the consumer's television signals to their laptops with no additional fee and essentially gives viewers the ability to watch their local stations no matter where they go. MLB claims that Sling Media is violating cable and satellite user agreements, pacts that MLB interprets for its content as tied to specific geographic regions. MLB currently sells various packages through DirecTV, Dish Network or In Demand on cable, providing access to about 60 games per week, as well as subscriptions pursuant to which every game is accessible over a computer, including a new product called Mosaic that allows viewing six games simultaneously.

Sling Media is not open to the idea of paying any fees to MLB. According to Sling Media chief executive Blake Krikorian:

“Maybe they should be paying us. Seriously. I’m still failing to see how we’re hurting them or their brand. We’re allowing more people to see more baseball, with all the same commercials, and stay connected to their teams. How is that bad? It’s additive to what they’re doing. We don’t need to be charging people a monthly fee. They’ve paid for our device and they’ve paid their cable bill.”

This case is an interesting example of the complex interplay between copyright law and new technologies. To MLB's credit, MLB does own the rights in the live events and has the legal right to control which cable and satellite networks will broadcast the live games. When the network broadcasts the games, using multiple cameras placed in various locations on the field using different camera angles, the network obtains a copyright in the broadcasted event and has the right to control the distribution and redistribution of the broadcast. So, arguably, the Slingbox device is capturing the live broadcasted events for free without the permission of MLB or the networks and then simultaneously distributing the live events to consumers on their laptops with no lag time. MLB can argue that Sling Media is "freeriding" off of the investments made by MLB and the networks to produce and broadcast the live events, especially now that MLB is actually selling subscriptions to access the live games over the computer.

On the other hand, Sling Media can argue that it invested in and produced the Slingbox and all of the technology associated with it. In other words, it could be argued that the Slingbox is just another piece of hardware or equipment that is sold to consumers and merely enables MLB's games to be viewed, similar to a television set. Certainly, nobody would claim that Sony is violating any copyrights when broadcasted games are viewed on its televisions and monitors or when music is played on its CD players. Also, the Slingbox device is not permitting viewers to access the broadcasts without paying the networks -- the consumer still pays the cable bill and would only have access to the games broadcasted through that cable network for which the consumer has already paid.

So which is it? Should Sling Media be viewed as stealing the broadcasted events from MLB and the cable and satellite networks, and unlawfully distributing the content to viewers without their permission. Or should Sling Media merely be viewed as a pioneer of just another emerging technological device that enables the content to be viewed? It's actually a combination of both, and it will be interesting to see how this gets resolved....



Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/25/2006 11:43 AM  

What I'm getting a kick out of is how Sling is advertising with baseball being what the person in the ad is watching. Just spices it all up a bit.

Anonymous David -- 6/25/2006 11:57 AM  


I see your point. The Slingbox permits consumers to travel with their cable t.v. programming any place they go. Anybody with wireless internet access (for example in the classroom or at the airport) could watch their cable t.v. programming on their laptop. Essentially it makes cable t.v. mobile now. Here's the advertisement link:


The advertisement link above also states that you can watch the World Series. But if MLB is right, then this obviously impacts more content providers than just MLB (i.e. the other sports leagues, HBO, etc.)

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/25/2006 5:45 PM  

I think we're forgetting the fact that MLB AM takes regional cable network feeds and the money produced on goes directly and only to Major League Baseball. So why don't the regional networks get in this and sue MLB for using their feeds to make money.

Also I'm not trying to make a shameless plug but the CEO/Co-Creator of Slingbox Blake Krikorian was on Sports Business Radio (Sirius show and podcasted) and he said MLB gave them no notice of a suit coming.

Anonymous Ryguy -- 6/25/2006 7:24 PM  


It impacts everybody, but how many times are consumers supposed to pay for the same content? If you're an subscriber you may be paying twice already if you also subscribe to Extra Innings.

This is a new-ish technology that's finally gaining ground. It's not going away. If it's not Sling, it'll be someone else. If they want to profit (more) they're going to have to embrace it somehow. I have ideas, but I'm not here to do anyone's job for them ;)

Anonymous David -- 6/25/2006 8:13 PM  

The reason you buy one of these product is to see your show/game when you are traveling. If you didn't have this device you wouldn't see the game anyway. If your at home and you have the between your slingbox or your big screen, people will still watch their directv package on their big screen.

Anonymous Ron Jumper -- 6/25/2006 8:40 PM  

This technology has been around forever, it's just that the slingbox guys packaged it up in an easy-to-use format.

Slingbox is no different from the cable that goes between your satellite/cable receiver and your television set. It is simply converting that analogue (or, in the case of HDMI, digital) data to digital and transferring it to the viewing device.

Anonymous tim in tampa -- 6/26/2006 12:22 AM  

I am not a lawyer, (I hope that is alright on this blog), but I would think that if the technology limits the amount of people who can get the feed, then these devises would fall under the fair use doctrine, which allows the consumer the right to view content that they have already paid for in whatever way they choose. If, however, it is possible for countless people to log onto one persons TV thru the Internet and watch copyrighted materials, then I suspect that Slingbox is going to need a lot of lawyers.

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