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NFL blocks churches’ game gatherings

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KAI RYSSDAL: The National Football League ought to be busy getting ready for its close-up this weekend. The league says the potential worldwide television audience for the Super Bowl is somewhere near a billion people. But the NFL’s trying to put the fear of god into some of ’em. It’s issued an ultimatum to some churches across the country saying public big-screen Super Bowl parties infringe the NFL’s copyright. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer has more.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: The brouhaha started last year. The Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis was planning its annual Super Bowl bash. Hundreds were always invited to watch the game on a big-screen TV. It was designed as a pigskin prayer service to evangelize sports fans. At halftime, instead of a wardrobe malfunction, the audience would see Christian videos. Then the letter came.

MARLENE BROOME: We were all just kind of stunned.

Marlene Broome, a church spokeswoman, opened the letter. It was from the NFL. And it said the church was violating an NFL copyright that limits private showings on big screens. She says the pastor backed down. This year, church members across the country are hosting small parties in their houses. But some say the NFL is a party pooper, especially since sports bars can still throw big-screen Super Bowl bashes. Intellectual property attorney Sherry Flax says the bars appealed to a higher power.

SHERRY FLAX: Why bars and not churches? Because bars long ago lobbied to get an exemption from the rules so that they could continue to attract customers.

Paul Fischer shakes his head as he sips a beer in a downtown Washington sports bar and wonders why bars got the exemption.

PAUL FISCHER: It’s not fair. It doesn’t make any sense.

But it’s the law. The NFL makes it perfectly clear with this message broadcast during the Super Bowl:

NFL MESSAGE: This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use…

The churches already got the message. They’re now lobbying for their own exemption.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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