Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Dryer v. NFL: Retired NFL Players Sue for Use of Identities
As detailed by Nooman Merchant of the Associated Press, a group of retired NFL players are suing the NFL under the Lanham Act over the NFL's use (and particularly NFL Film's use) of their identities. Merchant interviewed me for the story. Here is an excerpt and my comments:
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NFL Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea [#65 above, a defensive lineman who played for the Houston Oilers and recorded a lot of sacks while doing so] and five other players sued the league for using their names and images for profit without their permission.
The players filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Minneapolis. The lawsuit accuses the NFL of exploiting retired players' identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia to market the league's "glory days" without compensating the players.
"It's really turned into a big property," said Bob Stein, a lawyer for the players.
To read the complaint for Dryer v. NFL, click here.
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Michael McCann, a sports law expert and professor at Vermont Law School, said the lawsuit was similar to a complaint filed last month by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA. O'Bannon is seeking unspecified damages for the use of former players' likenesses in video games and other material. [O'Bannon v. NCAA]
In this case, McCann said, the NFL would likely refer to its collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA. The player contract in that agreement gives publicity rights to the league.
"Whether there's sufficient language in there affecting retired players remains to be seen," McCann said.
In June, a group of more than 2,000 retirees won a $26.25 million settlement with the NFLPA over the use of their likenesses in video games, trading cards and other sports products. The retirees sued in 2007, accusing the union of failing to actively pursue marketing deals for such products.