Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a lower court’s decision that the PGA Tour did not violate antitrust laws when it required media companies to pay a fee to gain access to the Tour’s real-time scoring feed.
The case percolated up from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had affirmed a district court’s ruling that “a company – even a monopolist company – that expends time and money to create a valuable product does not violate the antitrust laws when it declines to provide that product to its competitors for free.”
The product was a Real-Time Scoring System (RTSS), which allows the Tour to monitor the play around the entire golf course. The system is “an elaborate electronic relay scoring system that relies on state-of-the-art computer technology and equipment as well as dozens of trained workers and volunteers” to create a real-time leaderboard.
The plaintiff, Morris Communications Co. was active selling the Tour’s scoring data to third parties when the Tour insisted that it be paid, pursuant to an On-Line Service Regulations (OLSR) document that Morris had signed to get thee credential. Morris sued, claiming the Tour “has an unfair advantage in the publication and syndication of the scores.”
The appellate court wrote that “the compiled real-time golf scores acquired through RTSS are not a product that Morris has a right to sell because they are a derivative product of RTSS, which PGA owns exclusively. We agree with the district court that PGA ‘has a right to sell or license its product, championship golf, and its derivative product, [compiled] golf scores, on the Internet in the same way the [PGA] currently sells its rights to television broadcasting stations.’ Morris Communication Corp. v. PGA Tour, Inc., 235 F. Supp. 2d 1269, 1282 (M.D. Fla. 2002).”
In its conclusion, it added that the Tour “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. Yet Morris demands that it be given access to the product of PGA’s proprietary RTSS, without compensating PGA, so that Morris can then sell that product to others for a fee. That is the classic example of ‘free-riding,’ the prevention of which, under antitrust law, constitutes a legitimate pro-competitive reason for imposing a restriction.” Morris Communications Corp. v. PGA Tour, Inc.; 11th Cir.; Nos. 03-10226, 03-11502; 3/31/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) David Clark Borucke of Holland & Knight, LLP, in Tampa, FL.; George D. Gabel of Holland & Knight, LLP, Jacksonville, FL.; Jerome W. Hoffman of Holland & Knight, Tallahassee, FL. Timothy J. Conner, of Holland & Knight, LLP, Jacksonville, FL; Steven L. Brannock of Holland & Knight, Tampa, FL. (for defendant) Jeffrey A. Mishkin of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP, New York, NY.; James M. Riley of Rogers, Towers, Bailey, Jones & Gay, Jacksonville, FL.; Richard Stuart Vermut of Rogers, Towers, Bailey, Jones & Gay, P.A., Jacksonville, FL.; Christine M. Russell of Rogers, Towers, Bailey, Jones & Gay, Jacksonville, FL.