Super Bowl vs. Churches — NFL Loses

This week’s lead story brought a fair amount of mail from the Premium subscribers, many of whom were surprised by my take on the story. Here it is:

Thou Shalt Not

The Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Ind., announced plans to set up a video projector to show the Super Bowl to attract parishioners to church on Sunday instead of staying home to watch the game. Super Bowl Fever was strong in Indianapolis, thanks to the home team being in the game to smite thy enemies, the Chicago Bears. But the National Football League spotted the announcement on the church’s web site, and sent a letter demanding they cancel the showing since per copyright law, the game may only be shown on one TV per location, and the screen must be limited to 55 inches. “We have contracts with our [TV] networks to provide free over-the-air television for people at home,” said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. “Out-of-home viewing is not measured by Nielsen,” and therefore cannot be measured for ratings purposes. The NFL exempts bars from the rule, but said it won’t extend that to churches. Fall Creek Baptist pastor John Newland said he’d respect the NFL’s copyright, but many other churches vowed to hold similar events despite the NFL’s legal stance. (Indianapolis Star) …Right — that pesky Commandment against stealing is surely optional.

On the one hand, we have churches trying to compete with a cultural phenomenon, and on the other hand we have the corporate embodiment of large bands of burly ruffians — the National Football League.

Corporate Thuggery

It’s easy to make corporate thuggery look stupid, and indeed I think the story did just that, because the NFL was, indeed, stupid in how it handled the perceived problem. It’s harder to point out the flaws in the “good guys” — but that’s what I endeavored to do in the story. But let’s start with a couple of letters on the subject:

Being pretty much of an agnostic I’m certainly not a pulpit pounder for religion. I generally try to look at the practical and reasonable side of things when considering an issue regardless of the topic. After reading your stuff for so long, and enjoying it, I was surprised at your tagline for this article. I thought you would have come out on the other side. If the NFL is so worried about Nielsen Ratings why exempt bars? The number of churches that would be showing the Super Bowl certainly pales in comparison to the number of bars that would do it. I guess they have the right to do what they did but at least they should come up with something better than Nielsen Ratings as a reason. Can you possibly imagine that next year they would not show the Super Bowl because the ratings went down due to people going to church to watch it? —Ralph, New York

Ralph, in addition to “keep them guessing,” churches are known for their hard and fast rules — and dire consequences — unless the rules inconvenience them. I presume you know the word for that?

Sure the NFL is ridiculous. And I painted them that way clearly. No one gets off clean here — except the churches which follow their own dictates.

The news reports I saw on several churches were that they *did* conform to the NFL copyright. There were two tactics: 1. take off the name “super bowl”, 2. measure the screen exactly to 55 inches. I think the NFL …umm… dropped the ball on this one. If they truly own the copyright, they can license it for $1 to any church that wants to do this. They could have asked any church to send a check, dated on or before the super bowl, to the NFL, on their honor. I mean, if you cannot trust a church, who can you trust? I think the NFL ended up with a black eye on this one, so I suspect you might have been a bit harsh. —Bandit, New Mexico

We differ on my harshness, but agree the NFL got a black eye over this. It’s hardly unexpected that for-profit corporations will do their best to maximize their profits. Ideally, they balance their interests with their images, and indeed the NFL took a broadside sack by a cheerleader on this one.

Last, Eric in Pennsylvania:

I have to wonder, did you struggle deciding which way to go on this story? I think your position was fine, but there do seem to be elements of irrational behavior on both sides, and I imagine some folks will come down on you for not criticizing the NFL’s ‘bars OK, church no way’ position.

No, there was no struggle whatever. The hypocrisy of “doing what’s right” unless it thwarts the churches’ plans was just too obvious to overlook. How can a church expect its members to do the right thing if they don’t provide examples of that themselves?

Clarifying Copyright

But let’s not let the NFL off too easy. The theft of “intellectual property” — like a copyrighted article (or telecast!) is, in a very real sense, theft. “But it doesn’t cost the NFL any money!” is the usual retort.

Even if that was true (and it isn’t), that doesn’t matter! Theft is theft, and it’s not up to the thief to decide who’s hurt by it. I am hurt significantly by people who steal my stories, publishing them on their blogs or elsewhere. I’ve gone after some of them, and won thousands of dollars in compensation from it. And I have several other infringers in my target sights. The law is on my side, as well as the NFL’s.

But I think the NFL way overstated things. It’s “illegal” to have more than one TV in any one venue? Does that mean you can’t have your bedroom TV on if your wife is watching it in the kitchen?

It’s “illegal” to watch the game on a TV that’s greater than 55 inches across? Does that mean you better return that 60-incher to Circuit City before the Copyright Cops crash through your den door? I’ll bet copyright law is silent on both issues.

Beside the law, there’s the image problem the NFL brought upon itself with its ridiculous policy of exempting bars, but not churches. Some Christian news sources announced that, just before the Super Bowl, the NFL issued a “sweeping” exemption for churches as long as they didn’t charge admission, but I still haven’t been able to find anything official to confirm that — the “news” section of is silent on the subject.

Hard to Know For Sure

“I spent time trying to research the NFL site and the Super Bowl site to find what the copyright laws were,” said the Rev. Tom Rives of the Carrollwood Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla. “They do not have them posted anywhere. I had a lawyer in my church to go through all the things that he could find, because I do not want to stand in my pulpit and say, ‘Come do something tonight that’s against the law.’ I won’t do that.”

THAT is the sort of position I expected churches to take, and why I chastised other pastors for doing the opposite. Rives relied on the news of “It’s OK if no admission fee is charged” and went on with his party, a 20-year tradition at his church. But it’s still unclear whether he was legally in the right. (Source no longer online.)

There’s a Significant Update on this story — significant enough that it warrants its own post.

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34 Comments on “Super Bowl vs. Churches — NFL Loses

  1. Maybe churches cannot charge, but I’m betting donations were way, WAY up!

    Oh wait… I’m not a betting man. I was in church (no game shown there). And I don’t watch TV. Too much inane programming.

    And darn it, I wish I could have been “patting a powered-up Nielson box” while saying it.

    Churches could have just put a large piece of paper over one vertical and one horizontal edge, bringing the measurement to 55″. I’d have started with the lower edge, and maybe the right side. That would have kept the score and the station and NFL logo covered.

    BTW, is that a vertical measurement or horizontal? Does it specifically say 55″ DIAGONALLY measured?

    And would advertisers be upset that some part of their costly advertisement was covered with such obstructions in order to comply with the law?

    You can see I spend my day thinking outside my non-NFL approved, larger than 55″ box…er, cubicle.

    Thanks for the laugh Randy!

  2. Well, I agree that the NFL owns the broadcast and has the right to tell churches they can’t show the Super Bowl, but… since the Super Bowl is paid for by advertisers whose products will sell better if more people will see the ads, wouldn’t you think that the NFL would encourage as much viewing as possible? Maybe let anybody who doesn’t “TIVO” the ads show the broadcast to anyone, as long as they don’t charge for it. Wow, a win-win!

  3. The Las Vegas casinos and sports books were issued the same order by the NFL a few years ago. BIG blow to the books…. but they shut down their Super Bowl parties.

    Scott – formerly from Las Vegas now living in Villa Rica, GA

  4. I was really surprised to find that the 55″ diagonal measurement is in fact included in the US copyright law. Here is a link to the section in question [link deleted: source moved or removed].

    Still, I think the NFL just looked stupid — but you’re right on in pointing out that the churches looked bad as well.

    Color me surprised! I checked the link and indeed it’s true: there is a 55″ rule. Yet more proof that copyright law is way behind the times. Thanks for the link. -rc

  5. Copyright law covers copying and distribution. When a station broadcasts a program, the onus is on them to obtain the proper licenses. You can watch those programs on any number and size of televisions that you want.

    However, if you want to show such programs to other people (for example, in a church or bar), YOU must have appropriate licenses to do so. The NFL has granted a blanket license to anyone to do so as long as they have only one TV that is 55″ or smaller. So if you are having all the neighbours over to watch the game, you had better tell your wife to turn the bedroom set off, or to another channel.

  6. The Statement that bars are exempted from the NFL prohibitions on showing the Super Bowl is somewhat misleading. Any commercial establishment that signs on for satellite TV must pay a premium subscription fee based on the “person capacity” of the facility. If a bar has capacity for 1,000 customers, they pay double the cost for a bar that has capacity for 500 customers. Every commercial establishment pays considerably more than “home” service and the “person capacity” for the subscription is the equivalent of a Nielson rating.

  7. Very interesting comments, especially the link to the US Code. Upon reading the code, it seems to me that Sections 3 and 4 exempt all churches from infringement of the copyright holder’s rights. Especially Section 3 which allows exception when the performance is “in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly”. As I understood it, the broadcast was to be construed as a “religious assembly” although it would be a stretch to call it a “service”.

    In Section 4, the NFL would have to serve each and every church with a document requiring them to not broadcast the event and serve it at least 7 days before the event. All churches not so served would be exempt. The 55″ rule does NOT apply in either of these situations.

  8. The Chicago Park District had planned to broadcast the game on the Soldier Field Jumbotron for the diehards that wanted to watch the game at the stadium. They were planning on charging a nominal fee which would be donated to charity. Their request to the NFL was turned down citing the fact that the broadcast would not count in the ratings.

  9. I understand all sections of the copyright law in question. It was specifically written for MLB & NFL. Intellectual property can mean anything the NFL says it means.

    I wonder what will happen, if People of faith don’t watch the NFL games next year. Will people then say, Mr. Goodell killed the Golden Goose. Nice first act, Mr. Goodell, what’s next?

  10. If only our Baptist brethren would serve wine rather than grape juice, they might have gotten in under the ‘bar’ exclusion… 😉

  11. I was going to start with an admission that I was ignorant of the copyright law mentioned in the article. Thanks to Carl’s link, that is no longer true.

    My comment is: If the (federal) law states the conditions under which the display is not an infringement, then how can the NFL grant exemptions? Are they a “higher court”? I suppose they could refuse to prosecute, but that doesn’t mean they exempt anybody from the law.

    Oh, and in response to Gress’s comment, Paragraphs 3 and 4 don’t apply to a sporting event, because it is not a literary or musical work.

    The NFL can grant exemptions because it’s the owner of the copyright. It’s their property, and they can do what they want with it — including granting exceptions to the law, since the law is there to protect the owners. Remember the word: copyright — it’s literally the right to copy. You can sell or give away that right, but only if you own it. -rc

  12. Personally, I feel that churches are businesses the same as bars – though Churches have been granted tax exempt status (for archaic reasons), but they are businesses.

    Loosen up NFL; the christians will still be watching your games. You won’t be losing any fans, although I imagine betting could drop off a bit. Now, for the bookies out there, that might become a problem because the churches will be taking in what should have been their bucks!

  13. Actually, I was against the whole concept of showing it in Church anyway. The Church was not set up to entertain and when you get off mission you get into trouble. That is why Church isn’t as meaningful to people as it once was because we branched off into way too many venues instead of majoring on the subject we were called to be teach and distribute.
    The NFL may have been wrong in some ways but it is their product and they can allow it to be used or not used any way they desire. The renegade Churches were wrong. I felt a bit differently at first, thinking it was just an uneven attack on Churches but since have decided that it was a lose-lose situation that the Churches should have never gotten into at all. If football is more important than God then let folks stay home as the purpose of the Church is diminished by this type of activity. Have a Church fellowship, supper or whatever on any day you want but if the people will only come to your Church for an off-topic function then you do a disservice to God by marketing His “house” as a place of entertainment rather then worship. I think you handled the subject fairly and I appreciate that.

  14. First off I agree with Pastor Ron, what are churches thinking by broadcasting football games, and on Sunday no less?

    I can understand the NFL’s position regarding churches vs bars. Most church community halls are much larger than most bars and are more easily set up for an audience. Particularly the “mega churches” that have a congregation in the tens of thousands. Those places would surely skewer the Nielsons.

    And as far as giving bars an exemption, the largest Super Bowl advertiser is Anheuser-Busch.

    However, whoever at the NFL decided to go after churches should be looking for another job. The NFL lost a helluva lot more than they gained.

    The game gets far too much free publicity and promotion as it is, so they’ve got nothing to whine about.

    And I’m tired of the game getting jammed down out throats every year, like it’s actually important.

    It’s a brutal, venal, meaningless exercise, just the sort of thing that the imagination poor media love.

  15. Given that the game is “free” to watch on TV (paid for by the advertising which appears during the game, or paid for by premium channel fees), I think it’s *slightly* unrealistic to expect people in general (especially considering the apparent general attitude towards copying music and movies) to automatically know that it can’t be watched in groups — even if it’s the law. People are not born knowing the fine points of the law; they need to be told.

    When you rent a movie, it typically has a message at the beginning which tells you that you can’t copy it and can’t use it for commercial purposes (or words to similar effect). As you mentioned, Randy, every copyright owner can grant whatever free or for-pay rights and permissions they want, over and above any allowed by copyright law.

    Considering what Rev. Tom Rives said, there’s little excuse, in today’s Internet world, not to have the legal/copyright page on the NFL site (or any other publisher) list what is and is not acceptable use of the “free” TV broadcast (such as by quoting §110, although I would list some examples for the benefit of non-lawyers), and, if appropriate, a “Buy now” link by which someone can make it acceptable immediately, upon providing the circumstances and the maximum number of expected viewers, and, of course, a credit card number; I’m sure the NFL has a price, even if it’s $1000 a head.

    Randy: The 55″ limit appears to be only for radio and TV broadcasts, but indeed appears to apply to residences with 2000 gross sq ft or more space.

    Justin: I’ve never seen a TV/monitor display measured other than diagonally. This takes into account both the horizontal and vertical size, no matter the proportions.

    Mark: My reading indicates that a screen must be no more than 55″, among other restrictions, in order to show for free in a food/drink establishment of 3750 gross sq ft or larger. This is granted by the law, not by the NFL.

    Bob: I saw no mention of “satellite” in the article.

    Gress: The church exemption says that it applies to NON-dramatic works. I would guess that “dramatic” is legalese for “entertainment”, in which case football doesn’t meet this requirement (unless football is your religion, which I don’t think a court would accept). Nor would I refer to a social event as a “service”. Also, (4) doesn’t seem to apply (in addition to the non-dramatic restriction), since this is a transmission to the public.

    I may be incorrect; the legalese is hard to wade through. 🙁

    Eric: I tend to agree about certain churches and some other alleged non-profits being businesses; if employees of so-called non-profits were restricted to no more than middle-class income and even indirect political lobbying forbidden (“call your Senator!”), I bet you’d see a lot fewer of them claiming non-profit status.

  16. the comedian emo phillips once told a story about how he prayed and prayed for a bicycle but one never came. then one day he went out and stole a bicycle, then prayed for forgiveness. seems like some of the churches may have done just about the same thing.

  17. Bravo! I am a minister, and cringe when I see errant hypocrisy on the part of ANY church. I have argued loud and long with church board members about the theft of intellectual property being THEFT. Unfortunately, some people believe that since churches are exempt from paying taxes, they are exempt from many other laws as well.

    Playing movies for kids outside of your own home, having Super Bowl parties, and printing copyrighted material without permission or the proper licensing is all THEFT. Whether or not you get caught is not the point. Doing what is right IS the point.

  18. For years I’ve turned Karl Marx’s famous quotation and asserted that professional sport is the new opiate of the people. You must admit that the NFL certainly has all the trappings of organized religion: the fancy colored robes, the altars, the priesthood with its lesser priests and high priests, the temples and the altars, the rituals and ceremonies, and even the vestal virgins (well, maybe not virginal virgins).

    It’s funny to see the new “opiate of the people” getting upset that perhaps the old “opiate of the people” is infringing on their (Astro) turf.

  19. After reviewing the current copyright law that states that media broadcasts must be limited to 55″ and only at one location, I guess it is time to sue every HDTV manufacturer of sets 56″ and above and every cable and satellite service that offers multiple hookups per residence.

    And now, anyone with a fancy home theater system may now be subject to copyright violations.

    This looks like something for the True Stella awards (or soon to be.)

  20. Regardless of whether you agree with Falls Creek church on whether they should have been showing it or not, I gotta say that I respect them for their stance: if it’s not allowed, they’ll respect the copyright. Everyone has been torching the NFL (no one likes a Goliath), and the other churches who were going to disregard the copyright (no one likes a hypocrite); still, Falls Creek should get some recognition for keeping their own stance honorable: They wanted to do something for their folks, something that their church family could enjoy together, along with some visitors. OK.

    They took the high road. Props to them.

    I agree, and indeed did recognize them: “No one gets off clean here — except the churches which follow their own dictates.” Perhaps that was too subtle, and you’re right to emphasize it more. -rc

  21. I’m the chairman of the board at a nonprofit literary organization (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society). We have a number of groups which meet on weekends to show videotapes and DVDs. The problem is, when you buy a videotape or a DVD of a movie from just about any source, you only have the right to show it in your own home, for personal viewing, or in the company of friends and family.

    In particular, you can’t, say, put up a wide-screen TV in the garage and open up the show to the neighborhood, even if you don’t charge admission. That’s copyright infringement, and an “egregious violation” where you know it’s a violation and do it anyway, can result in up to $150,000 in fines.

    The MPAA and other industry groups have become rather protective of their copyrights of late, and are looking for test cases. We certainly don’t have the resources to withstand being made an example of.

    At our meeting of the Board of Directors yesterday, one of the items we voted on was the purchase of an umbrella license to cover the showing of videos. At $230 per year, we figure it’s better than putting the assets of the club at risk.

    This license probably doesn’t cover sporting events, but we really don’t expect that to be a major concern.

  22. When I read what one of your commenters wrote, “[I]f you cannot trust a church, who can you trust?”, I couldn’t stop laughing! With years and years of corruption in our churches stretching throughout recorded history, and scandal after scandal popping up in today’s churches (covered up child abuse, theft, sex scandals), it’s pretty clear that churches are no more worthy of blind trust than any other bureaucracy (or any individual, for that matter).

    Blind trust of any organization or person is just asking for trouble. President Reagan’s farewell address contains a pertinent statement: “It’s still trust but verify. It’s still play, but cut the cards. It’s still watch closely. And don’t be afraid to see what you see.”

    That last part seems to be the most important part to me.

    Thanks for an always through-provoking read.

  23. The relevant section of copyright law is section 110, paragraphs 5A and 5B. (see

    This is a section which lists limitations to exclusive rights, i.e. when copying is not copyright infringement.

    I’m not an expert, but I interpreted 5A as covering private homeowners inviting friends over for general viewing of any broadcast. There is no 55″ restriction for private homeowners, but a restriction on charging admission.

    5B covers what “establishments” can do, giving one set of conditions for restaurants and bars, and another set of conditions for other establishments (e.g. churches). Churches which measure less than 2000 gross square feet (excluding parking), can broadcast the Super Bowl with (it seems) no restriction on TV size. Larger churches are restricted to screens up to 55″, measured diagaonally, with up to 6 speakers (4 in the same room) without infringing the NFL’s copyrights.

    This is not NFL rules or policies but copyright law, and its limitations on exclusive rights.

    Churches can still take the high moral ground here, but only small churches, or large churches with a 55″ TV.

    (Maybe. 5B (v) indicates the transmission or retransmission must be licensed by the copyright owner. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that means the church must obtain a license from the copyright owner anyway – that wouldn’t seem to make much sense, i.e. then it wouldn’t be a limitation of exclusivity).

  24. Up to now, I enjoyed your emailings. But your ridiculous and unfounded attack on churches was totally uncalled for and unrelated to the subject, and clearly conveyed your anti-church attitude, of which I had seen hints before. Wherever you got your information, it wasn’t from any real Christian church I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps you’ve been attending some mosques instead? Or maybe one of those live-in cults in which the leader-dictator thinks he’s God, Jr.? I’m cancelling.

    Johnnie was a reader for three years, and indeed unsubscribed after this rant. Just as well: I really only want readers who have the ability to think. -rc

  25. Very insightful! Sounds like a no one wins situation. There is, however, another tiny bit of information on this you might enjoy. Fellowship of Christian Athletes puts out a halftime show for church youth groups who want to invite kids in for the Super Bowl. The film is timed to fit the space allotted for the on air show. It features NFL players and coaches giving their beliefs and testimonies. The main speaker tells the kids what it takes to become a Christian. Last year’s main man was Tony Dungy. And I’m pretty sure, Kurt Warner and some of the Rams did one several years back. I’m not sure who did the newest one. It is my understanding that if football, baseball,… players & coaches appear in uniform for these or any appearances, they have to have the OK of the league or at least their team. My source for that piece of info is an old St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Rex Hudler. He appeared at our church for Baptist Men’s Day. We always take up an appreciation offering for guest speakers. When the check was given to him, he signed it over to our youth director saying it was all part of his contract and the Cardinals let their players speak of their personal convictions in uniform, but would not let him accept even the modest gratuity we offered. He also said he liked to come to churches where it was offered and give the money to the youth director to help kids.

    Why would these guys be allowed to make halftime videos for an “illegal” party? Something to think about, huh??

    By the way, I agree with you 100% and so did our 18 & 19 year old daughters – the churches who said we don’t care about your stupid rule were way out of line. Thoes 10 little rules were not called the 10 suggestions!

  26. Sounds suspiciously like the overbearing examples in 1996 when ASCAP took the Campfire Girls to court over singing songs around the campfire. Songs like “This Land Is Your Land” etc. Bascially ASCAP and BMI believe they own the copyrights to every piece of music ever created in America. Including YOUR original compositions.

    And it’s not just the recording industry, but the government itself which showed them the way, when the IRS decided to clamp down on the vast, underground economy of kids selling lemonade out of their yards for 10¢ a glass and not paying taxes on the proceeds at daddy’s 28% or 33% tax rate.

    I mean, everybody’s definition of ‘theft’ is different, especially when BMI can sue you for publicly performing your own songs without a license bought from them. Yeah, if the church was selling tickets, then it’s theft. If they were just having a big gathering, what’s so different than gathering in the same preacher’s living room with his 102″ plasma screen?

  27. When I first started reading this article I knew that blindly pointing out the NFL’s bullish approach would be too easy and that you’d have a more in depth take. Like you, I was put off by the arrogant manner with which some pastors rationalized going ahead and holding Super Bowl parties in spite of being told not to. I’m not sure if the copyright really does say no one outside the home is allowed to use a TV larger than 55″, but that battle should be fought on the right battlefield…either the courtroom or by negotiating an arrangement with the NFL. After all, they are businessmen and women, and if approached the right way (like offering payment for use of intellectual property) they may be willing to lower their own high tone.

  28. Thanks for the story. It first I didn’t see the church as the bad guy, but your coverage forced me to think further.

    I’ve taken a recent interest in the area of copyright these days, but more in the area of software, and more specifically in the free software movement, the anti-piracy efforts of proprietary companies (and how frequently companies routinely trample others’ rights in an effort to protect their own), and the recent developments in the recording industry and movie industry to combat un-authorized sharing of music and movies.

    I see a lot of mis-information, which is why I responded. Here’s a few things I see differently than you expressed, and why I think it’s important:

    1) I would agree with “copyright infringement is, in essence, theft”, because the statement is qualified, and the meaning is more that there exist similarities between these two, otherwise different, things. There is an element that some copyright owners, like you, are losing money when infringement occurs. But to categorically conclude “infringement is theft” doesn’t follow logically, and is just incorrect, legally speaking. (And when we talk about breaking the law, we are speaking legally). Calling infringement theft assigns attributes to infringement which are not correct. For example, is infringement a crime? I believe it’s covered by civil law (although I think the DMCA makes certain actions a criminal offense). As a master of words, you should know that different words have different meanings for a reason.

    2) The standard retort, “but it doesn’t cost the NFL any money”, doesn’t matter when deciding if infringement occurs, but does matter when considering if an award of damages is an appropriate remedy for infringement. Kind of like, “no harm, no foul”.

    3) I understood the primary purpose of copyright law was, not to protect copyright owners, but to serve public interests. Copyright law wasn’t written to protect business interests, but to provide a framework to serve the people. Granting temporary exclusive rights to creators of works is just a means to the bigger purpose of enriching the public with high quality works. Plagairism is against the law, not so much because it harms copyright owners, but because it harms the public. When deciding if taping broadcasts on the VCR violated copyright law, serving the public interest was an important consideration.

    4) The term “intellectual property” is a blanket term which attempts to collect otherwise very different things. The terms copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secrets all have well-defined meanings in the law. The term “intellectual property” does not. There is very little you can say about “intellectual property”, beyond statements like “they are all products of the mind”, or “they are all covered by the law” because copyrights are not patents, and patents are not trademarks, and trademarks are not trade secrets. They have very little in common with each other. They have different purposes, cover dis-joint concepts, and are covered by different laws. To combine all of these different things with the blanket term “intellectual property” is to ignore that there are differences. To ignore these differences often, in public, is to further confuse an already ignorant (about “IP”) public. When proprietary companies use the term “IP”, in a confusing way to the public, which they do frequently and willfully, this tends to serve the company, at the expense of the general public.

  29. One thing that nobody has commented on, and this is where the NFL is coming from, is the Nielsen ratings. These ratings are how the advertisers cost for commercials is calculated. Fewer people watching translates to less money for the advertisements. If a church were to show the local over-the-air network station broadcast of the Superbowl to, say, 500 people, most of whom would have watched it over a cable or satellite connection then that is (most of) 500 people who wouldn’t have been counted in the ratings. Multiply that by the number of churches that could have had superbowl parties and that could cut a percentage point or two out of the Nielsen ratings and that could cause the NFL to lose a significant amount of money.

    I’m not coming out in favor of either party on this one; I just wanted to point out the money trail, which everyone else seems to have ignored.

  30. Re: Nielsen Ratings (John from Anderson SC)

    The thing you fail to mention (or realize) is that the Nielsen Ratings do not count every individual who watches a particular program. Rather, households are selected based on geographic and demographic data and are actually just a sample population. If a church or other organization got 500 people to attend a viewing event such as the super bowl, it’s statistically quite likely that *none* of them would be from Nielsen households. I don’t know what the actual number of Nielsen households is, but if they were to monitor the viewing habits of the entire population (currently an estimated 111.4 million television households in the USA) the data would be overwhelming. Statistical sampling cuts both ways: your sample has to be large enough to be representative of the population, but small enough to actually work with.

  31. The argument about the Neilsen rating, while valid, misses one major point: Neilsen ratings do not track every single home that watches something; they only track a “representative sample”. The only way the churches could appreciably affect the rating is if a large percentage of those who attended were also Neilsen families, with their tracking equipment. If that equipment is silent, that household (and the number of households they represent) would then not be counted. The ratings system is largely antiquated, but most people would consider it an invasion of privacy if networks were able to track who is watching what station at any given time.

  32. From the linked copyright law:

    “…and no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space…”

    Looks like you’d better return that 60″ Television AND the 6.0 Surround Sound System!

    Rev C in Florida says:

    “[H]aving Super Bowl parties[…] without permission or the proper licensing is[…] THEFT. Whether or not you get caught is not the point. Doing what is right IS the point.”

    Respectfully reverend, “legal” is not always synonymous with “moral” or “right”. Do you remember a few years back when people were going around with video camera hidden in shopping bags (or shoes) and filming “upskirt” shots and selling them on the Internet (that is, the camera was pointed up the skirts of unknowing women)? There was a news program where they briefly interviewed on of the men doing this. It went swomething like this:

    Q: Don’t you think its _wrong_ to do this?
    A: It’s not illegal.
    Q: So you don’t think it’s wrong?
    A: It’s not illegal.

    He was correct. It wasn’t illegal at the time, because nobody had ever thought to make a law about it. Flipping the example above, there are a great many things that are illegal that are NOT immoral. The DCMA alone I believe wrongly tramples all over the rights of consumers.

    Ray in Luxembourg says:

    “[T]he primary purpose of copyright law was, not to protect copyright owners, but to serve public interests. Copyright law wasn’t written to protect business interests, but to provide a framework to serve the people.”

    Excellent point. You beat me to it. Of course, it serves the public by protecting the profit motive to create works that are then protected. The NFL wouldn’t exist if there were no profit in it.

    John in SC says:

    “[T]he Nielsen ratings[…] are how the advertisers cost for commercials is calculated. Fewer people watching translates to less money for the advertisements.”

    That to me is a flaw in their system, not a moral _or_ legal argument. Ultimately, however, it’s also the crux of the moral argument. Since TV is broadcast for free, and the shows make their profits from advertisers, showing it in a really big room makes no difference to profit, (that is, people still see the ads) EXCEPT that the method used for measuring viewership is flawed, and they need to protect the **measurement** of viewership so they can continue to charge advertisers a lot of money for a lot of viewers.

    Maybe copyright law should be changed so that anyone who is going to do a large public showing has to simply “register” the showing. Thus their rights to have the parties is there, but the NFL still has its advertising numbers.

    Personally I think that if you broadcast something, you don’t have the right to dictate how people watch it, but the above seems like a reasonable compromise regarding a reasonable (profit motivated) objection.

  33. The argument by the NFL seems ridiculous on two fronts. First, how does a ratings system legitimize restrictions on use of publicly broadcast television? Secondly, if the NFL is concerned with ratings, how are they measuring and restricting all the friends of Nielson households who are there watching on game day, and all the Nielson households who choose to visit their friends on game day?

    Perhaps the hypocrites aren’t as easy to identify in this scenario.


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