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ESPN faces baseball score theft rap

Stole stats from rival, lawsuit claims

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Sports score service ESPN has been accused of stealing minor league baseball stats from smaller rival the Sports Network in a lawsuit filed this week.

A complaint filed in the US District Court in the Southern District of New York on Monday alleges theft, copying, illegal use and re-sale of The Sports Network's proprietary Minor League Baseball data by ESPN/SportsTicker. ESPN alleged purloined the data (such as end-of-inning updates scores, individual statistics and play by play data) by repeated unauthorized electronic access to The Sports Network's password-protected computer server.

ESPN allegedly gained the passwords needed by impersonating Sports Network employees to officials at the Pawtucket Red Sox, a Boston Red Sox affiliate, in a clear abuse of Federal computer fraud and abuse laws, according to Sports Network. ESPN also allegedly scraped baseball scores from the SportsNetwork.com website. Minor League Baseball has been a client of The Sports Network since November of 2003, giving the company's rights to tabulate minor league baseball scores, which ESPN allegedly violated.

"According to the complaint, ESPN/SportsTicker has been unlawfully free-riding on The Sports Network's sweat and labour by their blatant theft, copying and unauthorized use of The Sports Network's Minor League Baseball data," said Fred Perkins, a partner at Morrison Cohen Singer & Weinstein, and legal counsel to The Sports Network. "Proof of ESPN/SportsTicker's theft of data includes its copying of a minor data-entry error from SportsNetwork.com."

ESPN denies any impropriety. "The claims are without merit. We have not done anything wrong and if necessary we will establish that in court," the Disney unit said in a statement, Reuters reports.

Sports Network estimates it lost around $100,000 from news outlets that bought sports scores from ESPN instead of itself. Although the amounts involved aren't huge, as Reuters points out, the case is likely to set an important precedent on how data found on the Web can be traded or resold. ®

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