Reporter Did Not Infringe Copyright, but may have Misused Trade Secrets in NFL Draft Stories

December 18, 2012, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - A Washington federal judge dismissed National Football Scouting Inc.’s copyright infringement claim against reporter Rob Rang regarding his use of the company’s scouting reports in stories evaluating NFL prospects on Thursday.  However, the judge said a jury will have to decide if the scouting reports are a protected trade secret.

National Football Scouting filed the lawsuit after Rang used the company’s player grades, which indicate how well a college player will do in the NFL, in his “NFL Draft Blog” for CBSSports.com.  U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said that Rang had used original analysis in his blog posts, so his use of the player grades is covered by the fair-use doctrine.

“Rang’s news articles transformed National’s copyrighted material into a commentary on prospective draftees,” Judge Leighton said. “Rang did not…create a wholesale list of player grades; he used them only as a jumping-off point to discuss Rang’s own impressions of the player and his draft prospects.”  On the other hand, Judge Leighton was not so quick to dismiss National Football Scouting’s trade secret claims, which will be tried in February.

National Football Scouting claims that a lot of time and effort goes into its statistics and NFL teams pay a lot of money for them because it gives them a competitive edge.  The company requires teams to sign an agreement saying the team will not distribute the copyrighted reports to anyone else.   Judge Leighton said there is a factual dispute as to whether Nation Football Scouting had made a reasonable attempt to keep the player grades secret and whether the reports influence NFL team’s draft choices.   Judge Leighton also pointed out that Rang had created a factual dispute as to whether or not the grades have economic value because the grades are not widely known.  As Washington trade secret law only allows a company to seek actual damages, National Football Scouting will have prove it lost sales.

Since the company sells its unpublished scouting reports to NFL teams, and sales have increased since the lawsuit has been filed, this will likely be difficult to prove.  It will also be difficult for the company prove that Rang’s use of the player grades will give an advantage to teams that do not purchase the reports, as the grades are just a small part of the six-page report that gives NFL teams a true picture of each player’s capabilities.