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Can Talking Sports In a Barbershop Be Copyrighted?

If you’re having a discussion about the most successful sports figures of the last decade, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban have to be in the mix.

James has led teams to three National Basketball Association championships and has appeared in six straight NBA finals. (He has seven total finals appearances, and must get Cleveland past the Boston Celtics this month to make it to his eighth championship series.) In addition, he has numerous individual awards to his name, including being named MVP four times and an NBA all-star 14 times.

Saban has six national championships and has been named AP College Football Coach of the Year twice.

Dueling Web Shows

Both men have turned their accomplishments in sports into opportunities for success in the business world, so it was headline news when they crossed each other in a recent legal dispute involving copyright.

Saban launched a Web series earlier this year called “Shop Talk,” a talk show of sorts in which the coach talks sports with friends and other sports figures in a barbershop setting. James sent a cease and desist letter claiming the show is too similar to his own Web-based show “The Shop,” which is produced by James’ multimedia platform Uninterrupted.

The dispute is an intriguing matchup of two sports superstars who aren’t familiar with losing. The consensus in legal circles is that James has a significantly better chance of winning another championship this spring than coming out on top in this battle.

A Concept That Cant Be Copyrighted

“Unfortunately for James, the format for his series likely lacks the distinctiveness needed for copyright protection,” states Thomas Baker, a professor of sports law at the University of Georgia, in a Forbes.com column. James claims the barbershop setting of his show makes it distinctively unique, but barbershops have been featured as places where men gab in movies and TV shows for decades. Heck, there’s even a movie franchise based on the premise.

Cease and desist letters often are a first step in a copyright dispute, but they should only be sent if you have a strong case. Saban seemed unintimidated.

“I think LeBron James is a great player. There's been at least 20 barbershop-type things I've seen on TV. I didn't know anybody owned that. I didn't even know he had one. I'm sorry that anybody could be offended by something that were just having fun with. I enjoyed it and we’re going to continue doing it," Saban said when asked about the matter after a spring practice.

James has few equals on the basketball court, but he’s unlikely to come out on top if he takes this dispute to a court of law.

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