Legal Fight Emerges in the World of Kickball

May 11, 2007

There was no love in the air on Valentine’s Day 2006 when the World Adult Kickball Association filed a lawsuit against upstart DC Kickball in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., claiming “copyright infringement.”
 
The litigation, which recently entered the discovery phase, alleges that founder and WAKA-defector Carter Rabasa stole WAKA’s rules of play as well as defamed the organization when he referred to them as “the Microsoft of kickball.”
The complaint accuses Rabasa of copyright infringement for unauthorized use of WAKA’s co-ed kickball rules, including “the clearly unique requirement that there be four men and four women at a minimum to play” and for mandating that “players must be at least 21 years old.” No other specific rules or intellectual-property thefts are mentioned.
WAKA demanded $356,000 from Rabasa in compensatory and punitive damages. Last October Rabasa had started the D.C. Kickball Legal Defense Fund to fight WAKA in court, and to date has only collected approximately $2,800 in donations, although he said a “vigorous defense of the suit could cost upwards of $50,000.”
 
Defending itself could prove expensive as WAKA’s lawyers have demanded a raft of information and documents on DC Kickball and its operations.
 
WAKA, which was founded in 1998, is the largest sanctioning body for adult kickball in the United States. It features tens of thousands of members on teams across 23 states and in India and raised some $3 million in player fees in 2006. It has also been credited with “the popularization of the children’s game as a recreational and social activity among adults.”
 
In contrast, DCKickball started just a couple of years ago. While growing in popularity, it features several hundred players, all of whom play in Washington D.C.
 
“It’s hard to believe that people would go to court over this,” Michael McCann, an assistant professor who specializes in sports law at the Mississippi College School of Law, told the Sacramento Bee. “The notion that they own a sport, that’s just crazy.”
 
McCann added that the suit boils down to a complicated legal point that will be tough to prove. No one owns the mechanics of the game, just as baseball and basketball aren’t owned, he said. But the way certain rules are “expressed” or used, such as requiring at least four women and four men on each team, could possibly be a copyright issue, he said.
 
This isn’t the first legal front for WAKA. Attorney Thomas Dunlap, the Managing Partner of Dunlap, Grubb, Weaver & Whitbeck, has reportedly filed cease-and-desist letters against others who might infringe upon WAKA’s “intellectual property and trade secrets.”

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