Twitter Dispute Involving MLB Raises Issues of Copyright and Fair Use

Until recently, attorney and baseball aficionado Rob Friedman ran a Twitter account called @PitchingNinja, which shared videos of notable pitches in Major League Baseball games with about 50,000 followers. The tweets consisted of the pitcher’s name, a description of the type of pitch and Friedman’s impression of it (such as “ridiculous” or “filthy”), and a GIF or video of the pitch. Earlier this month, however, Kevin Clancy at Barstool Sports contacted MLB about what he perceived to be Friedman’s violation of MLB’s rules regarding sharing on social media. MLB filed a DMCA complaint with Twitter, which suspended Friedman’s account, at least for now. (The league has a history of responding aggressively in these types of situations.)

Friedman responded by pointing out that his use of brief clips from MLB games, consisting of just a single pitch, may fall under the fair use doctrine in copyright law. He is not making a profit from his Twitter account, which provides free content, and he is adding his own opinions or reactions to MLB’s material. These are important factors in the fair use analysis, as well as the amount of the game that Friedman copied and the extent to which (if any) he is undermining the market for MLB’s product.

MLB has stated that it intends to reach an agreement with Friedman that will allow him to continue using his account. The fair use doctrine does not technically require this type of agreement and does not allow a copyright holder to impose its own definition of fair use on people whose use falls within the doctrine’s scope. However, the dispute currently appears to be headed toward an amicable resolution.