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How Football Parallels Copyright Law

Sports pundits are weighing in from every angle on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to fine New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick a half-million dollars for his team's videotaping of its opponent's defensive signals. But all we here at Legal Blog Watch care about is: What do the lawyers think?

One lawyer with an opinion on all this is Boston College Law School professor Alfred Chueh-Chin Yen. Writing at the blog Madisonian.net, Yen finds -- as only a law professor could do -- parallels between the Patriots incident and copyright issues surrounding circumvention of digital rights management. One argument in Belichick's favor, Yen notes, is that deciphering signs is part of sports and perfectly legal. If deciphering signs is legal, the argument goes, what's the big deal about using a video camera to accomplish it? OK so far, but where is the parallel to circumvention of DRM? He explains:

"Both the Patriots and some circumventers have a 'legal' objective. The Patriots want to decipher the opponent's defensive signals, and some circumventers want to make fair use of a copyrighted work. The only 'offense' is using technology to accomplish otherwise legal ends. So, if we think (as some do) that penalties for circumvention should be lenient or nonexistent when fair use is the purpose, shouldn't the Patriots and Belichick get off with less severe punishment?"

Well, no, Yen says, in answer to his own query. The difference is that the Patriots had been called to task for this very offense before and had been given an express reminder this fall. The Patriots did not simply break a rule, Yen believes, but thumbed their noses at the league's authority. "With this in mind," Yen concludes, "I think the league has treated the Patriots and Belichick quite fairly."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 14, 2007 at 04:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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