NFL Reserves Right to Use Players Image

March 10, 2016
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NFL Reserves the Right to Use Players ImagePlayer Rights: the NFL Reserves Right to Use Players Image

Who has the right to use a football player’s image – the athlete himself or the league?
Well, according to a recent court ruling, when it comes to in-game footage, it is the latter. While players own their names and their images outside of league events, the NFL is allowed to take advantage of athletes’ fame by using video clips it owns. NFL Films, for example, can use footage of famous football players on the field, in order to promote league events, without their consent.

NFL Player Publicity Rights

Players’ publicity rights, according to a three-judge panel on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, are preempted by the NFL’s copyright ownership of previously shot film. The court’s ruling came about in a dispute between former players and the league over the NFL’s right to use in-game footage of them in a promotional capacity. The final ruling means David Tyree’s helmet catch, Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception and Von Miller’s recent single-game string of sacks against Cam Newton are all properties of the league. The players don’t own the right to use footage of these events, even if they are the focus of them.
The Court made note of the special circumstances videos touting the league’s past, though, in its opinion. Game footage used by the league in highlight compilations “represent[s] speech of independent value and public interest rather than advertisements for a specific product,” according to the opinion. The economic interests of the league, it explained, are not substantial enough to convert the footage into commercial speech. The court dismissed players’ arguments that the NFL’s use of game footage implied that players were endorsing the league or that their performances on the field were part of their identities.
For related articles on NFL player rights, check out some of these previous posts:
If you’re concerned about the way in which the league is handling this, or concerned whether they’ll eventually use your image, speak with an experienced sports law attorney for more information.