Originally created 04/01/04

Golf scores verdict upheld



ATLANTA - The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a judgment against a news organization that sued the PGA Tour over the distribution rights of scores from its golf tournaments.

The court ruled that the PGA Tour, an organization that operates golf tournaments around the world, does not violate federal antitrust laws in barring the news media from reporting a golfer's scores as they happen.

"We are delighted with the court's decision and gratified that it so clearly affirms the PGA Tour's position from the beginning of this case," PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs said.

Morris Communications Co., parent company of The Augusta Chronicle, brought a lawsuit against the PGA Tour in 2000 after the organization refused to allow Morris to sell real-time tournament scores over the Internet.

The PGA Tour developed its own scoring system - called the Real-Time Scoring System - to make scoring available to reporters at an on-site media center, but it required media to delay reporting scores until they are posted on the tour's official Web site, pgatour.com, or 30 minutes have passed.

Prior to the PGA Tour's actions, Morris employees would gather scores at the tournament sites and post them to the Internet. Morris syndicated the service, and its scores would sometimes appear before those on the PGA Tour's Web site.

Morris officials and attorneys were reviewing the court's ruling Wednesday night. Attorney George Gabel said the news company is considering its options on whether to appeal the suit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We felt like the trial judge was wrong in saying the PGA Tour had a proprietary right to the scores. We believe the scores are in the public domain when they occur," Mr. Gabel said. "The only reason the PGA Tour can keep the news media or anyone else from reporting on the scores is because of a monopoly power."

The judges who have reviewed the case say otherwise.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger ruled in 2002 that the PGA Tour has a right to claim its scores as private property until they are broadcast.

On Wednesday, the 11th Circuit said "Contrary to the arguments of Morris ... this case is not about copyright law, the Constitution, the First Amendment, or freedom of the press in news reporting. This case is a straightforward antitrust case involving a product and a defendant's assertion of a valid business justification as its defense to anticompetitive actions, if any."

At least 14 U.S. news organizations, including The New York Times and Scripps Howard, joined with Morris in a "friend of the court" brief.