Court sides with NFL in licensing dispute with former players

Court sides with NFL in licensing dispute with former players
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A federal appeals court on Friday sided with the NFL in a lawsuit that accused the league of unfairly profiting off footage of former players in hundreds of highlight films. 

A three-judge panel on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the players’ publicity right to license their own identity was preempted by the NFL’s copyright ownership over the past footage. 

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One of the main questions in the case was whether the hundreds of highlight films produced by the NFL and licensed to everyone from Hulu to ESPN is commercial speech — thus falling outside copyright law. 

“Because the films represent speech of independent value and public interest rather than advertisements for a specific product, the NFL’s economic motivations alone cannot convert these productions into commercial speech,” the court wrote in its opinion

The court rejected a claim that their play in football games was part of the players' identity, rather than footage of a copyrightable work. It also dismissed the argument that the footage made it seem like the players were falsely endorsing the league.  

The NFL had issued a $50 million settlement with other former players in a class-action lawsuit back in 2013. 

But a few players declined to be part of it, opting instead to continue their legal action. Three former players — who played during the 1960s-1980s — continued with the lawsuit. 

Most of the funds from 2013 were set aside to help former players, while another portions was used to create a licensing agency to help them profit from their publicity rights in the future. 

At the time, the judge handling the suit criticized the small group of holdouts. But they argued the settlement did not benefit enough former players.