We write on behalf of the Football Data Co Limited which is the appointed
licensee of the FA Premier League, the Football League, the Scottish
Premier League and the Scottish Football League ("the Leagues") in respect
of the licensing of certain intellectual property rights of the Leagues,
including those in the fixture lists for this season August 2005 - May
2006 ("the Fixture Lists"), for use by third parties.
We have noticed that your website
http://www.bsad.org/0405/reports/fixtures.html is displaying Football
Fixtures. In order to display the Fixture Lists you must obtain the
necessary licence from the Press Association.
We wish to make you aware that we have a good faith belief that your
present use is an infringement of the Leagues' legal rights and that all
such unauthorised use must cease immediately. Please confirm by return
your agreement to this and give your undertaking to cease all such
infringements on any and all of your web sites. Pending your response the
Leagues' rights are fully reserved.
The Leagues have appointed the Press Association as their official agent
for the licensing and distribution of the Fixtures List. If you have
inadvertently infringed our clients' copyright please take immediate steps
to contact the Press Association (Email firstname.lastname@example.org) to
obtain the appropriate licence. Please confirm to us by e-mail that you
are now seeking an appropriate licence. Because of the time sensitive
nature of the Fixture Lists you are required to remove them immediately
from your site pending the granting of a licence.
We thank you for your cooperation.
A Division of Projector NetResult Ltd
583 Fulham Road,
Dear [Hosting company],
We have tried to contact http://www.bsad.org/0405/reports/fixtures.html
several times regarding its use of infringing football fixtures but have had
no response. The site is displaying upcoming fixtures without purchasing the
appropriate license. Please remove the fixtures immediately to prevent
further action being taken.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require further information
regarding this issue.
Much as it pains us to give you the courtesy of a reply to your error-ridden, crudely templated email, it appears that we must do so. Given that you have succeeded in your objective by having our site suspended by our service provider, we must also congratulate you on a job well done. We hope that it gives you a great deal of satisfaction to bully ordinary football supporters into reluctant and resentful submission, earning a wage by pursuing those who give their time, effort and creativity without seeking recompense.
The slightly ironic beauty of your victory, of course, is that we no longer have the power to remove the fixture list, since we no longer have access to the website upon which it is hosted. Should we succeed in having the site restored, we will have no alternative but to comply with your demands, despite it being very evident that these demands are based upon highly dubious and contentious legality. Naturally, we understand that such legality is irrelevant in the current situation, as you have lots of money and we have none; again, we trust that this makes you very happy.
We would, however, like to receive precise and specific clarification on what we are permitted to publish. Will you be shutting us down again if we tell people that Watford are playing Leicester on Saturday? What if we also say that we will be visiting Sheffield Wednesday next week? Bearing in mind the sheer arrogance of your attack, we assume that it is based upon firm and proper guidelines rather than merely opportunistic bullying; without such guidelines, you put us in an entirely untenable position, in which our website can be suspended at your whim.
We also trust that you will contact our service provider to correct the very obvious and potentially damaging error in both of your emails. You refer, quite specifically, to the following address as the cause of offence: http://www.bsad.org/0405/reports/fixtures.html. This is last season's fixture list with last season's results, and is therefore something over which neither you nor the Football League have any claim whatsoever. In wrongly choosing to mention this address - whether through incompetence or ill-will - you have given the impression to our service provider that the vast majority of our site infringes the League's copyright. This is quite clearly not the case, and we expect you to address this situation immediately by writing to [hosting company].
Finally, we would just like to reiterate our utter disgust for your conduct in this matter. We have no doubt that you manage to justify your role in this farcical, cheap charade to yourself, but to the people whose enthusiasm, dedication and damn hard graft are given to football freely and with no expectation of reward, it appears to be that of a parasite. While we expect to be copied in on your mail to [hosting company] and to receive the clarification requested, we greatly look forward to never hearing from you again after that point.
We reserve the right to publish this correspondence on our website.
Ian Grant and Matt Rowson
Dear Mr Grant,
Thank you for your email. Upon checking http://www.bsad.org/0506/reports/fixtures.html we have noticed your site is still displaying upcoming fixtures. The next game which takes place on Saturday 15th of October against Leicester City is listed along with previous game results. Please remove all upcoming game fixtures from your site. If you wish to display any upcoming fixtures you must purchase the required license from the Press Association.
If you wish to receive more information on why you are legally not permitted to display upcoming fixtures without the relevant license please contact [removed].
We shall continue to monitor your site and wait for it to be amended.
Attached are some documents which will provide more information on the use of fixtures.
I am writing in connection with the notice appearing on your site for the removal of future fixtures in the current season. I am the General Manager of Football DataCo which is owned by the Football League and the FA Premier League. DataCo is charged with the commercialisation of Fixtures and also other football data.
I think your readership should have the opportunity to understand what appears to be a punitive action in asking for the future fixtures to be removed from your website.
The Football League won a case in 1959 which awarded them copyright in their fixtures. Since this time they have marketed their fixtures and in more recent times additional data to go with the fixtures. This activity is 45 years old and therefore not something which is new.
I have received 2 telephone calls today from angry supporters of Watford, the first being entirely abusive and the other expressing displeasure - in neither instance were the callers prepared to listen to the reasons for the action before hanging up. This is disappointing.
Your site has been invited to contact DataCo or its agent PA to obtain the necessary licence. The administrators of the site chose not to take this action which forced us to escalate matters to the point where you would take notice.
You can purchase a licence in two ways. The first is with the permission of the club and is called becoming a "Nominated Fanzine" the cost of this is £1.00 + VAT. This scheme was put in place to enable sites such as yours to be able to use the fixtures. The second route also requires the permission of the club and involves the payment of a £266 + VAT fee where Nominated Fanzine status is not being awarded. A simple call or e-mail would have saved us having to escalate the steps taken against your site. Believe me, we would prefer to find a way for you to use the fixtures legitimately.
The core problem is this : the Leagues have built a business in their fixtures over the last 45 years which is worth millions each year. For most of these years this has not been an issue for fans. It has only been with the advent of the internet and therefore a cost effective way of fans wanting to use the fixtures that problems have arisen. Hence the creation of the Nomiinated Fanzine scheme as being an affordable way for fanzines to access the fixtures.
In UK law there is no allowance for "not for profit web sites" - we therefore have to treat all websites the same. It would be impossible for us to charge a pure commercial site and not also charge a so called "not for profit site". Both sites are available to all via the internet and compete for the same audience.
The only alternative for the leagues would be to decide to drop all charges for fixtures and therefore cut the stream of revenue that currently comes from this source. As you can appreciate this is not a palatable option considering the state of most club finances.
I therefore urge you to consider taking a licence and restoring the fixtures to your site. Please don't hesitate to contact me to discuss this option.
I can also confirm that there is no problem with showing fixtures and their results once the match has been played.
Football DataCo Ltd
Firstly, thank you for your correspondence and for taking the time to explain your company's actions. Much as we understand and share their frustrations, we would emphasise that the Watford supporters who contacted you yesterday were not acting at our behest. Indeed, you will have noticed that we deliberately removed names from correspondence before publishing it on the site, out of respect for your privacy.
With regard to the matter in hand, we beg to differ on a number of points. In particular, your interpretation of DataCo's initial contact email varies considerably from our reaction upon receipt: in short, if that is what you consider to be an invitation, we would very much hope to avoid being on the end of a threat. The email in question, which was evidently copied and inaccurately assembled from a template, made no mention whatsoever of the potential arrangements that you have detailed, preferring instead to insist that we "cease immediately" before presumptuously thanking us for our cooperation in removing the fixture list from our site.
If you are unaware of the impression that such an email leaves, then we would respectfully suggest that you re-write it before using it to deal with another website; if, as seems more likely, it is specifically intended to intimidate its recipients into compliance, then you can hardly be surprised that we chose not to respond to such bullying. Much as you may wish it to be otherwise, unofficial websites and fanzines are unlikely to disappear any time soon, and we would hope that your dealings with others might be more courteous and humble in the future.
You say that you would prefer to find a way for us to use the fixture list legitimately. Clearly, however, one of your suggested courses of action can be dismissed out of hand: it appears that we must reiterate that our website is financed entirely from the pockets of those who run it and has not made a penny for anyone involved in a decade's existence. We appreciate that some unofficial sites earn money through advertising or via involvement in multi-club networks; that is not the case in this instance. Therefore, you will understand that the sum of £266 + VAT is far beyond our means.
Now that we are aware of the "Nominated Fanzine" scheme - which received no mention at all in your company's original email - we will, of course, explore that option to see whether it is feasible. You will already know, however, that your company has also pursued at least one other Watford fanzine over the same matter and, consequently, you will already have identified the inherent flaw in the logic of this system.
Should it not be possible to obtain a licence, we expect far clearer guidelines than we have so far received on what we are able to publish without incurring your company's wrath once more. Mr [removed]'s last email explicitly instructed us against "displaying upcoming fixtures" before warning, rather unpleasantly, that your company would continue to "monitor" the site in the future. This, frankly, leaves us baffled and considerably dismayed. If, as appears to be the case, we are not permitted to observe that we are playing Leicester City at Vicarage Road on Saturday, then it seems to us that your company's pursuit of its rights has reached a point of breathtaking absurdity. We must again insist that you provide us with exact, clear guidance on these matters. We will not be placed in a position where the slightest wrong move causes the site to be suspended again.
We hope that these issues can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Nevertheless, we must stress that our website represents ten years of incredibly hard work, dedication and immense creativity from a great number of people, not least ourselves; we are not prepared to fade away meekly because of crude demands. We do appreciate the more personable tone of your correspondence, and hope that it represents some hope for progress in this matter.
Ian Grant and Matt Rowson
Dear Mr Grant and Rowson
Thank you for your e-mail reply this morning.
As you have suggested I will review the content of the communications that NetResults send out on our behalf.
I also appreciate that you have published my response on your site this morning so that your readers have both sides of the situation. In total I have now had 3 phone calls and 3 e-mails from Watford supporters. I have personally responded to those prepared to allow me to do so.
I have no personal wish for Fanzine sites to disappear at any point in time. To me this is a vibrant variant to the football community.
I presume the inherent flaw in the “Nominated Fanzine” payment structure is the ruling that this applies to one Fanzine site per club? I can confirm that for the current season Watford have not appointed such a site. This is a club decision and something you will have to discuss with the club. I do not view the ruling that there is one nominated fanzine site per club as being a flaw – it is what has been agreed to-date. If you would like to see this changed I would suggest you contact the league and make the relevant points for them to consider.
In terms of the clear guide lines for the display of fixtures: a fixture mentioned as part of an editorial preview of a forthcoming match is perfectly acceptable. The provision of a listing of fixtures masquerading as an editorial piece is not acceptable. It is the publishing of the listing of future fixtures which causes the problem in terms of the copyright. This problem is only caused because we charge people for using the fixtures in this listing format. We charge all sources, including newspapers, magazine, books, websites and any other uses. We only tackle fanzine sites because we have to treat all elements of the same market sector equally. Paying customers complain to me when people use the fixtures for free when they have been forced to pay a fee. They see this as unfair and I can see their point of view.
The Leagues and Clubs have tried to respond to Fanzines’ requirements by introducing the Nominated Fanzine licence. This has been a positive move but it does have limits otherwise we are back to letting everyone use the fixtures for free and this will be unacceptable because of the loss of revenue to football overall. DataCo does not make a profit – all of the revenue generated is sent to the leagues and from the leagues to the clubs.
In fact the mechanism used favours the clubs in the lower leagues. Approximately 56% of all the money generated via DataCo is sent to the Football League. DataCo revenue to the Football League is 10% of the league’s distributable income. In Scotland 20% of DataCo revenue is sent to the Scottish Football League and accounts for 22% of their total income. I struggle to follow the argument that making the fixtures free is right when as a consequence this revenue will be lost to the clubs. Considering the financial state of UK football this seems counter productive to fans wanting to see their clubs more competitive.
As can be seen by our discussion the fixtures have real value in the marketplace – why would anyone want to remove this?
Once you have a letter of permission from Watford stating that you have been awarded Fanzine status and stating the URL of the site let me know and I will send you the appropriate licence to complete and then fixtures can be restored to the site in a listing format. In the interim you can use the next fixture in the context of a review for the forthcoming match. As I have previously indicated there are no issues with using the fixtures and results once the match has ended.
Football DataCo Ltd
Thank you for replying to our requests for further clarification.
Firstly, for the record, we would like to correct one small but important point. It was claimed by [removed] in his email to [removed] that NetResult had attempted to contact us "several times". This claim has been repeated by yourself in other letters that we have seen. However, we would emphasise that the entirety of the correspondence received and sent is displayed for all to see on our website. Only one letter - on 28 September - was received by email from NetResult prior to Mr [removed]'s decision to escalate matters by contacting our service provider. We understand that you believe an earlier message was sent on 19 September and we politely suggest that you find out who it was sent to: a comprehensive and fruitless search of our mail archives indicates that it was not sent to us.
We are grateful for your attempts at explaining the situation, but it nonetheless seems as if an awful lot of words have been used on the return route to square one. Our position remains exactly the same, albeit that we are rather better informed on a number of matters than before.
Your justification is certainly impassioned. But it is also, we believe, something that will be looked back upon with raised eyebrows in the future, for your own argument acknowledges that the Internet has radically and permanently changed the way that information, about football and everything else, is spread around the world. The variety of information, the speed with which it can be transmitted, the accessibility of various new media to the general public; all of these things mean that the world is fundamentally different to the one that your licensing system survived in previously.
With typical eagerness, football has pounced upon revenue opportunities offered by new technologies and will unquestionably continue to do so in the future. It appears that it is much less willing to accept that the freedom of information implicit in the Internet explosion means that certain monopolies are unsustainable in the long term, no matter how dependent it might be upon the revenue from those monopolies. Thus, the Football League, assisted by your company, will continue to go through the futile process of releasing fixtures to the media every summer and then attempting to prevent that information from being spread by anyone lacking explicit permission. Every year, you will open Pandora's box, then try to stuff its contents back and shut the lid tight. While we acknowledge your not-for-profit status, it is nevertheless the case that only one of us is being paid for their involvement in this tawdry exercise.
In truth, the appeals to our better nature are rather patronising. Naturally, we cannot ignore our own club's bank balance entirely and have no wish to damage its finances. But simply supporting a football club does not mean that we have given up the ability to form opinions about what is right and what is wrong, what is practical and what is impractical, nor that we can be persuaded merely by the somewhat simplistic suggestion that the money raised by this scheme might help our club become more competitive. To put it bluntly, we do not regard all revenue-raising activities as acceptable means to an end.
So, where does this leave us? In the same place as before, it seems. To repeat, we do appreciate your explanations, but you have made it abundantly clear that there is no room whatsoever for negotiation or compromise. Therefore, we will continue to seek "Nominated Fanzine" status, although we have already pointed out that your company is pursuing more than one Watford website and thus that there cannot be a satisfactory conclusion in that regard. Should that fail, we will continue to explore the options available to us, on the basis that we firmly believe in our right to provide fellow football supporters with basic, factual information about their club, much as we must currently bow to your financial clout and legal muscle in enforcing your out-dated licensing system.
Ian Grant and Matt Rowson