Michigan may pass a law that kills players' rights to video game revenue

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MLB2K10.jpgThe State of Michigan has a bill winding its way through the legislature that would, if passed into law, allow video game manufacturers to use ballplayers’ names and images in video games without their consent, against their will and without any compensation.

The bill is called “The Right of Publicity Act” (text here) and, as so many laws are these days, it’s rather euphemistically named, because it kind of kills that which it purports to protect.  Specifically, one’s right of publicity, which is a legal concept that deals with the commercial exploitation of one’s name, likeness, voice or personality, and generally keeps companies from slapping famous people’s faces on their products all willy-nilly.

This right is also why those who make video games involving major league sports must get permission from the individual players — or, more commonly, their unions, which have been delegated the rights by individual players — to use names and likenesses.

Why was the centerfielder for the All-Stars named Guy Jose in the old Commodore 64 game “Hardball Baseball”? Because the Accolade video game company didn’t want to pay to use a real ballplayer’s name. It’s the same reason why games that do have some real players’ names and likenesses use a phony names if, say, the real player isn’t a member of the union like the players who crossed the picket line in 1994, or in Barry Bonds’ case due to his refusal to grant the union his publicity rights for such purposes, choosing to go out on his own.

This Michigan bill, however, takes those rights away by specifically exempting video games from right of publicity laws.  This means that if this law passes, a Michigan-based video game manufacturer could, if it were so inclined, put Evan Longoria in its games, slap his face on the cover of the box and sell the thing even if Longoria objected.  And they wouldn’t have to pay him. To be sure, Michigan is only one state, and it isn’t a state that has a booming video game manufacturing industry.  But right of publicity laws are creatures of the states, not the United States Code, and in those cases states tend to copy each other, if not try to outdo each other.

You have to figure that the MLBPA is strongly opposed to this law, but I don’t think you don’t have to be a ballplayer to find this troubling.  People should be able to control how their names and likenesses are used (or not used) in commerce, and for that reason, this law should not be passed.

If this subject motivates you like it motivates me, contact Pam Byrnes, the bill’s sponsor and tell her you think it’s a bunch of baloney.

And if it does pass? Well, at least we can find someone to make a video game with her as the main character. 

Matt Wieters is close to signing with the Washington Nationals

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 02: Matt Wieters #32 of the Baltimore Orioles connects on a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on October 2, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Jon Heyman reports that the Nationals are closing in on a deal with catcher Matt Wieters. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that it’s a two-year deal. UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal reports that the deal is for two years, at $21 million. There is an opt-out for him after year one. He will get $10 million in 2017 and, if he returns in 2018, he’ll get $11 million.

Wieters was not expected to go this long without signing, but his market, which many thought would be robust, never materialized. The Nats had been rumored to be interested for months, but they were apparently waiting to swoop in late and get what one presumes will be a bargain.

Wieters, 30, finished last season hitting .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and 66 RBI in 464 plate appearances. The Nationals currently have Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton, so who falls where in the catcher fight in Washington is unclear, but one presumes that Wieters getting a two-year deal puts him at the top of the depth chart.

Sergio Romo experienced some difficulty in the past couple of years

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Sergio Romo #54 of the San Francisco Giants walks off the mound after allowing an RBI double in the ninth inning of Game Four of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park on October 11, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal has an interesting story up about Sergio Romo as he begins spring training with his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There is some fun stuff about his family, all Dodgers fans from southern California, but the more notable stuff is about Romo himself, who has dealt with a lot more than has been reported over the past couple of seasons. The loss of three of his four grandparents is a big one, as it has thrust the mantle of head of the family on Romo in ways that he was not fully prepared for. There are also allusions to personal and psychological problems Romo has experienced — there is a vague suggestion of alcohol or maybe just late nights out and perhaps depression, but he is not specific about it — which he worked on with the help of friends and teammates on the Giants and which he now has overcome.

There’s always more going on the lives of baseball players than we as fans know.