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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:

* * *
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.

* * *

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.

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To read the complaint for Dryer v. NFL, click here.





5 Comments:

My initial reaction without reading the complaint completely matches your statement, Mike. The standard player contract in effect at the time granted the publicity rights to the teams. I really do not see a reason that they should argue that the work at the time did not grant that right in perpetuity to the league. Compensation earned by players at the time was based in large part upon television and film rights. The real difference is the explosion in the amount of money involved. Perhaps this speaks again to feelings held by so many retired players that the NFLPA and ownership has done little to help them financially as they have aged. I think that this is different from video games, cards, etc.

Blogger Ed Edmonds -- 8/26/2009 8:48 AM  


Ed,

Thanks, I appreciate your comments.

I'm also having a hard time seeing the legal grounds for the complaint, given that (as you note), the standard player contract would seem to seem to contradict their claims. They certainly have a point in terms of underlying fairness -- it doesn't seem they knew the importance of what they were signing -- but like you, I'm not sure that offers any legal recourse.

I'm also surprised their complaint isn't against the NFLPA, which may not have done its job counseling players on what they were signing away.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 8/30/2009 6:44 PM  


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