Former Players, NFL Films Wage Feud Over Image Rights
Philadelphia — There could be one clip of Hall of Famers that won’t make the NFL Films archives: The sight of John Riggins and other greats heading to court seeking a big payday from the company.
Ten former NFL players, including five Hall of Famers, want the league to pay if NFL Films uses images of them without their consent. They filed a lawsuit in New Jersey to reclaim payment for the use of their names, images and likenesses from film footage they say was used on NFL Network and to promote the league without the ex-players consent.
Jon King, an attorney for the players, compared the lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, to the one from former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon against the NCAA because they deal with “individuals’ rights to control the use of their image.”
The NCAA, and video game company Electronic Arts, are facing similar suits in California. This case cites a recent ruling in California that determined EA Sports could not use First Amendment protections to defend its actions.
“In the EA case, it had to do with computer graphics depictions of players,” King said Wednesday. “As technology increases, it becomes more lifelike and realistic. In the NFL Films case, it’s the players’ images, but committed to film for DVD and really, more these days, for distribution on the NFL Network.”
Hall of Famers including Riggins, Dave Casper, Tom Mack, Curley Culp and Ron Yary are part of the lawsuit.
“NFL Films has never obtained authorization from retired players to use their images to be, as NFL Films puts it, the ‘backbone’ of the NFL Network,” according to the 81-page filing obtained by The Associated Press. “NFL Films’ conduct goes far beyond simply use of images without consent. It continues to this day to strike licensing business deals, in New Jersey, affirmatively, and falsely, misrepresenting that it has obtained all former players’ consent to appear in its promotional materials. The NFL does likewise.”
There was a $50 million settlement in April between the NFL and a group of retired players seeking publicity rights. The NFL said Wednesday that settlement was “fair and reasonable” and should be enough to placate this group of players.
“We agree with the judge that the settlement will benefit the large class of retired players particularly those in need of medical and financial assistance,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday.
The complaint against the NFL and NFL Productions notes that in 1993, all players’ contracts began to include clauses that granted the NFL authority to use the names, images and likenesses of players to publicize and promote the league. They claim it was never included with the players in the suit.
The filing also contends that the league and NFL Productions violated state laws regarding unfair competition and rights of publicity, as well as a federal statute claiming the league and its production arm were unjustly enriched by improperly using the former players.
The others listed on the suit are Mike Bass, Willie Buchanon, Roman Gabriel, Joe Kapp and Phil Villapiano. It also asks that former players who have opted out of the Dryer v. NFL lawsuit, their heirs and assigns be included in this case.
Though there is no stated sum in the complaint, it notes that according to published reports in 2002, NFL Films was making $50 million per year in licensing revenue, which applied only to third parties such as television networks.
King said this group of players are interested in learning what “NFL Films is really worth as a marketing tool.”
“That’s the interesting thing that takes this case into the future,” he said. “This type of thing was never envisioned 10 years ago, 20 years ago. It has to do with the technology, when things change from a quaint, small entity like NFL Films to providing what the NFL calls the backbone of the NFL Network.”