Friday, July 16, 2010

Football Fixtures No More

Normally the inbox for the Scottish Football Blog is full of comments and press releases of varying relevance to the subject in hand.

The junk folder tends to be full of messages from very sincere, and sadly often recently bereaved, people who have the gift of money and are prepared to share it with me if only I'll send them my bank account details.

Basically, as email accounts go, it's not the world's most exciting.

But today I got a bit of shock as I went to clear out my junk folder.

An email arrived from a company called NetResult on behalf of another company called Football Data Co Limited.

A jolly friendly email it was to. As friendly as a letter using sub-legalese to threaten you can be.

I've upset Football Data Co Limited. I've also upset the Scottish Premier League Limited who employ (actually part own) Football Data Co Limited to "develop, commercially exploit and protect their intellectual property rights in the fixture lists and data."

My crime is to use the SPL logo and "displaying Football Fixtures."

Firstly a mea culpa. Not for nothing did I get an extremely high mark in my Media Law course.

I do use pictures on this blog - including the SPL logo - without much thought about copyright. Google Image search has made me lazy.

I suppose I'm like one of those people who drive above the speed limit. I know it's wrong but I think I'll get away with it. Obviously my indiscretion has less chance of ending up with somebody being killed but the principle remains.

I've often been critical of the SPL. But it has remained the main focus of the blog and I've often celebrated it in posts and devoted my thoughts - such as they are - to how we can make the game better.

Note "we." Foolishly I have always thought we were all in this together. Clubs, administrators, fans, bloggers. All of us pulling together as part of the Scottish football community. Disagreeing, certainly, but all of us wanting to make the game better. Obviously not.

So on the logo infringements I hold my hands up. "I didn't think I was doing any harm" is not a great defence. But it is my defence. I've already started going through all 560+ posts trying to remove the logo and have sought clarification from both Net Result and the SPL as to whether this includes all images that include a reproduction of the SPL logo.

I presume it does. So I'm in for a great weekend unless I can find a way of simply removing all images in one go. Anyone with Blogger experience who could advise me on that would be much appreciated.

Right. Logos out of the way.

What has really made my blood boil, got me spitting feathers, left me raging, is the fact that I've also got to remove the "Football Fixtures."

Reading the email from Net Result I was half convinced that I'd inadvertently posted the complete fixture list for the SPL season alongside an in-depth analysis of each game that would leave Opta feeling a bit inadequate.

But no. I've checked and identified the two posts that I think most likely to have caught the attention of Net Result's obviously rather wide net.

The first I called SPL 2010/2011 Fixtures. I'll admit that title was aimed towards search engines.

In it I included the first three weeks of fixtures for the SPL. I also listed the fixture list for 1st January because of the prospect of a weekend of derby action.

I then linked to the SPL site and the Daily Record for their club by club guide.

I also listed the first round of fixtures for the lower divisions and included links to the complete fixture list on the Scottish Football League's shiny new site. (No mention of the SFL in the Net Result communication - a joy to anticipate?)

A week or two later, as part of my ongoing ranting about kick off times, I also listed the revised fixtures once TV times had been announced. I listed these up to November and included another link to the SPL site again noting that this was where the full fixture list could be found.

This clearly is the crime heinous enough for Net Result to issue their warning.

I was aware that Football Data Co UK had taken Yahoo and Stan James to court over their use of unlicenced fixture lists.

What harm though, I misguidedly thought, would publishing a few fixtures on my little blog do?

So there we have it. I've now essentially been sent a cease and desist notice by a company that "specialises in Internet monitoring and enforcement."

A few things spring to mind.

Firstly, the national game has now crawled so far up its own arse that the fixture lists themselves are a way for organisations like the SPL to make money. Don't be misguided enough to think that the fixture lists are a way of finding out when and where you'll be following your team. They are now a commodity.

Secondly, to display even three weeks worth of fixtures I would need to purchase a licence from Football Data Co Limited. I believe this would cost somewhere in the region of £4500. A quick, conservative calculation would suggest that would be around 20 times the total value of everything I have received for writing this blog for just under four years. Hardly worth it.

Thirdly, like a lot of bloggers, I use links frequently to link out to organisations like the SPL or newspaper sites. This is not a selfless act. But reciprocal links from these sites might come in at a ratio of 75:1 or so. Fair enough. Except that my first post "SPL Fixtures 2010/2011" didn't actually do my blog much good. People found it but they stayed on the page for around 30 seconds and there was an exit rate of 40%. People were obviously following the links, including the links to the SPL site.

I was actually driving traffic to them.

Fourthly, scouting around the internet (links below) I'm not the only person who has fallen foul of this. And the feedback others have received is depressing. My understanding is that to actually print a preview of the entire SPL fixture card before a match weekend would be an infringement. I might be able to get round it by doing an individual post for each match or by just previewing one match each week.

This is going to either cause more work than a blog I do in my spare time can justify or rob me of a lot of content. And rob readers of the chance to laugh at my predictions.

My first thought was to get round this by changing the names, a kind of Scottish football version of Samuel Johnson's Senate of Lilliput. But somebody tried that already and got another letter from Net Result. There will be no Edinburgh Maroon's versus Hooped Glaswegian previews allowed.

So here I am. Not feeling much better for stealing so much of your time with this wordy rant.

What next? Along with ploughing through every image on the site I suppose I'll need to take down - or at least rewrite to become a witty complaint about censorship - any reference to fixtures. If this is retrospective then I suppose that will take a lot of time as well.

After that I don't know. Right now I'm sickened and wondering what the point of even doing this blog is.

I started it because I like to write and I like football. Much of what I write at work is dull and done on auto-pilot, this blog has been as much an escape for me as it has been about informing the readers. Hopefully at times I've done both.

Right now though I'm probably seventy per cent persuaded just to jack it. Maybe I'll wait for a response from the SPL. Maybe not though because I can guess what they'll say.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking forward to the new season. I shared that by giving my readers some information about the fixture lists.

Clearly that deserves some sort of public whipping.

Now I'm fed up. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Chronicling the SPL, for fun, for free, because I love it, doesn't seem appealing at all anymore.

> Lady Arse done bad.

> EPL talk done bad.

> The Telegraph thinks the whole thing is a bit off.