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I am looking into creating a fantasy soccer league, where users can create their own virtual team of real-life soccer players. The performance the virtual team depends on how those soccer players perform in real life.

There are data providers (eg: http://www.xmlteam.com, https://fantasydata.com) targeted at fantasy leagues, their licenses are for using their data, which includes those real names, but it's obviously not the license one would need for using real names in a game. There are some articles online that state that fantasy leagues do not need licensing for showing real names and data, because it's considered the same as showing public information, similar to how the news or papers would report about sports games. Some fantasy leagues have been in court over this and succesfully defended themselves, thus not needing a license. I also contacted 2 of the biggest fantasy soccer leagues in my country, if they could inform me about how and where to obtain such a license. One didn't respond (yet), the other one replied that they have someone present at every soccer game to gather the data, so that they don't need a license to get this data from someone else - they weren't aware of other licenses regarding the usage of real names.

I also contacted the organizer of the professional soccer competition (Pro League) in my country (Belgium), on their website they advertise their licensing deal with EA, but they haven't replied (yet).

I am aware that this should be discussed with a lawyer, but for me it's more about having a reusable fantasy sports game (without the actual sports data) than having a lot of users in a functional game. In other words, if it would be OK to develop and test this game in a closed environment (on the internet, without public registration, let's call it "friends-only"), that would be sufficient for me for now.

Does this type of game need a license? At what point does or doesn't it need a license? Can I test my game online with 16 participants (registrations closed, so not open to the public) without needing a license (yet)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Legal issues around using real players names and team emblems in an open source game \$\endgroup\$ – Alexandre Vaillancourt Aug 8 '17 at 13:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand the questions are very similar, but imo it's not a duplicate. I do not want to use team emblems or any other copyrighted content. I want to know at what point I would need a license (eg. would I need one for closed beta testing?) for using players data. Many fantasy leagues appear to not need licensing for using real names, successfully rejecting claims in court. And then there are data providers that provide/sell the data for fantasy leagues websites and apps - so I assume there must be some kind of "fair use" involved for (re-)using data for fantasy leagues. \$\endgroup\$ – Max Aug 8 '17 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks like a duplicate of Issues using real names in a soccer player game. Short answer: lawyer up & deal with licensing or find another solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Pikalek Aug 8 '17 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pikalek Please try to understand the question. It's not a duplicate. A fantasy league is not your average sports game, users are trying to predict real life events. It's more like a sports gambling website than a game for that matter. There are precedents excluding fantasy leagues from these licenses. \$\endgroup\$ – Max Aug 8 '17 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Issues using real names in a soccer player game \$\endgroup\$ – Tyyppi_77 Aug 8 '17 at 16:32
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The last relevant US legal case was C.B.C. Distribution and Marketing, Inc. vs. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, L.P. et. al.

The decision is generally read to mean that one can use the same data as CBC (i.e., player names and statistics) without obtaining a license from the relevant professional sports league.

A petition to rehear was denied (without explanation) & presently, it has not gone to the supreme court. Thus, you should still consult a lawyer regarding your particular situation as:

  • the ruling involves complex interactions between state and federal law
  • it's not necessarily 'settled'
  • it's unclear how far the ruling reaches regarding other games
  • the ruling is US only; international laws may apply
  • answers given here are not legal council
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