Justices Won’t Take Online Information Case

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — In a case involving licensing agreements, online information and the right of freedom of speech, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal by an Internet firm that claimed it had a right to publish real-time data from golf tournaments.

Without comment, the justices let stand a lower court ruling allowing the PGA to restrict media outlets from posting or selling the real-time scores to website publishers — unless media outlets purchase a licensing agreement from the PGA first.

The case involves Morris Communication Co., which began distributing scores its reporters obtained from the tournament's media center.

The court was asked to decide the legality of an opinion from 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that held the PGA has a legitimate business interest in keeping media companies from disseminating tournament scores online as they occur.

Atlanta, Ga.-based Morris Communication and the PGA both accused the other of seeking to control access to tour scores for commercial purposes. But the 11th Circuit agreed with the lower court that the PGA has the right to control those scores.

“PGA has accommodated Morris at every step along the way, has agreed to sell its product to Morris, and has acted appropriately to protect its economic interests and investments,” Judge Joel F. Dubina wrote for the 11th Circuit in April. “Yet Morris demands that it be given access to the product of PGA’s proprietary RTSS (Real Time Scoring System), without compensating PGA, so that Morris can sell that product to others for a fee."

Morris complained that the PGA’s online service regulations make it the only entity that can sell real-time golf scores, and thus, violating the Sherman Act by monopolizing the market of compiled real-time golf scores.

PGA regulations include a provision that media organizations wait to post the scores the PGA compiles until the PGA posts them on its website, or until 30 minutes have passed since the shot-whichever comes first. Another provision of the contract bars companies from selling the scoring information to third – unless they buy a license to do so from the PGA.

In the case, the PGA contended it wasn’t trying to control information but simply tried to keep Morris from taking information the PGA spends a lot of money to compile and disseminate for free to the media.

The PGA Tour forbids cell phones and palm pilots on the course, so they don’t disrupt play and the PGA’s RTSS is the only source of compiled golf scores.

The dispute drew attention from the Georgia Press Association, Cox Enterprises and the New York Times Co., which worried that a ruling in favor of the PGA would limit the media’s ability to report the news.

The case is Morris Communication Co. vs. PGA Tour, No. 04-266.