May 18, 2004
Has ESPN, which bills itself as the "leader in sports," been caught stealing?
The Computer Information Network, which does business as The Sports Network and Sportsnetwork.com, has filed suit in federal court accusing ESPN's SportsTicker service of illegally accessing one of its servers, as well as of theft, copying, and illegal use and resale of minor-league baseball information, including inning updates, box scores, and individual statistics. The lawsuit asks the court to prevent further theft and to award more than $100,000 in compensatory damages along with punitive damages. In a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, TSN alleges that from Jan. 5 through April 5, SportsTicker repeatedly accessed a password-protected server operated by The Sports Network, the official statistician of baseball's minor leagues. The Sports Network contends that SportsTicker violated the Federal Computer and Abuse Act and other federal laws. In the 102-page complaint, The Sports Network alleges that certain "representatives" of SportsTicker knowingly, intentionally, and without proper authorization used a log-in and password code entrusted by The Sports Network to the Pawtucket Red Sox, a minor-league baseball team, to "repeatedly and unlawfully obtain back-door access to TSN's password-protected server." An ESPN statement issued Tuesday said the claims "are without merit and if necessary we will establish that in court." In the suit, The Sports Network cited an April 25 game between the Lakewood Blueclaws and the Columbus Catfish as proof of the heist, saying it had sent out an incorrect score that appeared on ESPN soon afterward. In a statement issued Monday, The Sports Network also quoted ESPN general counsel David Pahl as saying that the SportsTicker site would not stop using factual information obtained from Sportsnetwork.com. In a letter dated April 29 and filed as part of the compliant, Pahl wrote to the law firm representing The Sports Network and stated that "a number of persons," including employees of the Pawtucket Red Sox, informed SportsTicker that The Sports Network was using SportsTicker's copyrighted material without authorization. Pahl wrote that SportsTicker was provided a password from a team employee "unsolicited and without restriction of any kind" and that the password was used "for the purpose only" to investigate the alleged copyright theft, and that use of the password stopped before the current minor-league season began. Pahl also wrote that SportsTicker hadn't used any automated screen-scraping programs, such as spiders or bots, to obtain information from Sportsnetwork.com, but wrote that SportsTicker would continue to obtain information manually. The Sports Network says ESPN and SportsTicker both electronically and by hand conducted more than 64,000 requests per week in consecutive weeks in April and then displayed the information taken from the site on ESPN's Web site and made the stats available for resale and display on other sites. The Sports Network claims more than $100,000 in losses from customers purchasing its minor-league baseball scoring and statistical information from ESPN.
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