This semester has opened my eyes to the multitude of copyright and IP issues prevalent in the sports world, and the huge and lasting impact these issues leave behind. New technology is continually affecting all sports, making information and viewing available to fans through several different mediums - no longer just TV and radio. In particular, the Internet is rapidly advancing the progress of sports technology, while simultaneously sparking a number of copyright infringement issues. In order for both the sports industry and the copyright owners to benefit from the remarkable potential the Internet holds, the two sides need to strike a balance - one that will require some give and take on both ends.
All professional sports leagues have been notoriously stubborn when it comes to issues of copyright infringement - after all, it is how they make most of their money. But they often fail to look at the big picture; compromising on certain issues would actually increase their revenue, if they could find a way to appease the fans and the "infringers" (TiVo, espn.com, Yahoo Sports, fantasy football leagues, video games, professional photographers, even Vegas hotels, to name a few). Often, the alleged copyright violations are incredibly lucrative ideas created with the sports fan in mind. Sports leagues and franchises will need to approach these ideas with much more of an open mind in the future - and doing so will allow for a new era of sports to emerge.
As far as the current status of copyright in sports, progress is being made - very slowly. For every settlement and agreement reached between sports leagues and copyright "infringers," there are ten times as many lawsuits with immovable parties on both sides. I think this is due in part to the fact that many of these technological advancements have not been the product of a gradual progression. Most took the sports industry by surprise, and rather than welcoming new ideas and concepts, they felt threatened and defensive. As such, they pushed hard to make sure no one else was getting a piece of their profits. What they didn't realize was doing so only opened the door for criticism, and shed a negative light on the industry.
Fans viewed the sports world as overreacting, and didn't understand why leagues and franchises would want to restrict their use of "real time" gamecasts on the net, or tell them its illegal to TiVo a football game and tape it for their friends to watch later. This made them resentful and resulted in lost profits for the leagues. On the other hand, the leagues and franchises did have a valid argument: there were definitely copyright violations occurring through the numerous mediums mentioned above. TiVo resulted in unauthorized distribution of games in areas that had been "blacked out" due to a lack of ticket sales, websites using real-time gamecasts were transmitting copyright information (and profiting from it) without a license, Vegas hotels broadcasting the Super Bowl in 7,000 seat venues was a violation of the NFL's telecast copyright, sports video games were using music clips without permission of copyrighted music compositions, and fantasy sports websites were providing web users with player statistics databases, infringing on the players' right of publicity. Basically, the arguments were valid and the copyright infringement issues were real. The sports industry was (and still is) being cheated, per se, out of profits that are, technically, rightfully theirs.
However, I believe the future of copyright in sports looks brighter. The publicity from all of the above mentioned issues has forced people to recognize what is happening in the sports industry, and also makes them realize what they can and cannot do. There will undoubtedly be more copyright infringements in the future, but with a better understanding of technology, its impact on the sports industry and its potential for revolutionizing how we "watch" sports, there will be less and less infringement litigation, and hopefully, an attitude of compromise among sports leagues and franchises and those parties guilty (whether purposeful or not) of copyright infringement.