NFL draft site wins copyright claim; trade secrets claim continues

A blogger who posted information from a scouting report about players being vetted by the National Football League has defeated a copyright infringement claim but still faces a trial over whether he misappropriated trade secrets.

The Copyright Act’s “fair use” doctrine, 17 U.S.C. § 107, protected part-time blogger Rob Rang from National Scouting Inc.’s infringement claim, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton of the Western District of Washington ruled.

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Therefore, the judge granted Rang and media company Sports Xchange Inc.’s motion for summary judgment on the copyright claim.

(Click here to read the order on Westlaw.)

The judge, however, found material questions of fact exist regarding whether National Football Scouting’s “player grades” constituted a trade secret and, therefore, denied the defendants’ summary judgment motion on that allegation.

According to the order, National Football Scouting evaluates college players throughout the country and creates reports that it sells to 21 NFL clubs for $75,000.

For each prospective draftee, the six-page report includes information about injuries, family background and college statistics.  It also assigns each player a numerical grade, the order said.

For the 2010-2011 season, Rang published eight articles about the upcoming draft on Sports Xchange’s website, NFLDraftScout.com.  He disclosed 18 “player grades” that National Football Scouting assigned to prospective draftees, adding original commentary to his posts, Judge Leighton said.

Although National sent letters to the defendants demanding that they stop publishing the allegedly infringing material and disclosing its trade secrets, Rang continued to incorporate the “player grades” into his blog posts, the order said.

National then sued the defendants for copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets in the Washington federal court in September 2011, asserting the “player grades” were unpublished, confidential reports to subscribers, making them valuable trade secrets.

The defendants responded that the “fair use” doctrine allowed Rang to post National’s unpublished, allegedly copyrighted material because the blogs were transformative, newsworthy and only used a small percentage of the scouting reports.

In addition, the defendants argued, the “player grades” cannot qualify as a protectable trade secret under Wash. Rev. Code § 19.108.010(4) because they are subjective opinions.

Both parties filed summary judgment motions.

Judge Leighton agreed with Rang and Sports Xchange on the copyright claim but refused to grant summary judgment on the trade-secrets allegation.

While the posts included National Scouting’s allegedly copyrighted “player grades” on prospective NFL draftees, the blogger added original commentary and transformed the nature of the work, the judge noted.

“Rang did not use the ‘player grades’ as a focal point of his article … he used them only as a jumping-off point to discuss Rang’s own impressions of the player and his draft prospects,” Judge Leighton wrote.

For the trade-secret allegation, however, a trier of fact must decide whether National Scouting reasonably kept the information confidential and whether that secrecy creates the reports’ economic value, the order said.

National Football Scouting Inc. v. Rang et al., No. 11-cv-5762, 2012 WL 6444226 (W.D. Wash., Tacoma Dec. 13, 2012).