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Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal.App.4th 400, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 307 (2001) (full-text).

Factual Background[]

The lawsuit was filed by Pete Coscarart, Dolph Camilli, Frankie Crosetti and Al Gionfriddo, all of whom played in the Major Leagues between 1932 and 1948. All were named to the All-Star team or played in the World Series. "By virtue of their accomplishments," their names, statistics, photos and video images have been used in All-Star game and World Series programs, on Major League Baseball's websites, in videos and in television broadcasts.

Their lawsuit alleged that these uses violated their rights of publicity under California common law and the California right of publicity statute. The players hoped their case would be a class action, on behalf of themselves and other retired players. But in an earlier ruling, the Court of Appeal affirmed a decision denying the case class action status. As a result, the four players proceeded on their own.

Appellate Court Proceedings[]

In affirming the dismissal of their lawsuit, Justice Simons held that the information used without their permission "may fairly be characterized as mere bits of baseball's history. . . ." The use of this information in game programs, websites and videos, the judge said, "is a form of expression due substantial constitutional protection." It was not commercial speech, he ruled.

Justice Simons further concluded that "the public interest favoring the free dissemination of information regarding baseball's history far outweighs any proprietary interests at stake." And for this reason, the Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the players' common law claims.

Their statutory claims fared no better. One paragraph of the California right of publicity statute expressly provides that no consent is required to use a person's "name, . . . photograph, or likeness in connection with any news, public affairs, or sports broadcast or account." Justice Simons held that in this case, the uses to which the players objected "come within the 'public affairs' exemption to consent," and thus no consent was required.