Ohio State Slammed for Using Ex-Players’ Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – A former Ohio State University football player filed a class action accusing the school of using former players’ images and likenesses without permission or compensation.

The class-action complaint was filed Friday by Chris Spielman in Columbus federal court on behalf of current and former Ohio State football players.

The defendants are IMG College LLC, Ohio State University and unknown persons and companies.

“Defendants OSU and IMG/WME and their co-conspirators…have committed per se violations of the federal antitrust laws by engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy and a group boycott / refusal to deal that has unlawfully foreclosed class members from receiving compensation in connection with the commercial exploitation of their images following their cessation of intercollegiate athletic competition,” the lawsuit states.

OSU is one of the largest universities in the nation with over 60,000 students at its Columbus campus, according to the complaint.

Spielman is an Ohio resident who played linebacker for the OSU Buckeyes from 1984 to 1987. He still holds the team record for most total tackles in a game, according to the complaint, and is the university’s all-time leader in solo tackles.

He is also a three-time All-Big Ten choice, two-time All-American and Lombardi Award winner.

Spielman went on to play in the National Football League for 12 years and ended his career in 1999 with the Cleveland Browns. He is currently an officer of the College Football Players Club.

He claims in his class-action lawsuit that OSU entered into licensing partnerships that unlawfully utilized his image and those of the proposed class members.

“The related available content featuring likeness of former student-athletes in the Class, such as DVDs, photos, and banners, and merchandise, continues to grow in both availability and popularity, and the growth will continue to explode as merchandise continues to be made available in new delivery formats as developing technology and ingenuity permits, as exemplified by the substantial library of ‘on demand’ internet content now available for sale for OSU games as well as jerseys on OSU’s website,” the complaint states.

Banner and vintage-jersey licensing programs are at the center of the dispute.

OSU and IMG allegedly organized a banner program with nonparty Honda featuring notable former OSU football players, including their last names and photographs.

“Plaintiff was one of the sixty-four individuals depicted on said banners, despite the fact that plaintiff did not provide consent, and plaintiff was not compensated for said Honda Banner Program,” Spielman’s lawsuit states.

IMG and OSU also organized a “Legends of the Scarlet and Gray” vintage-jersey licensing program with nonparty Nike that violated former players’ publicity rights, according to the complaint.

Spielman’s attorney Brian Duncan said in a phone call that OSU is cutting former players out of deals involving them.

“Not only is the university and the entities that are named in the complaint seeking to use the unauthorized images of and named likeness of these players as for-profit ventures, but they’re also seeking to preclude these individuals from participating in the ability to financially benefit from the sale of their own name, image and likeness, in the form of jerseys,” Duncan said. “Over the last 10 years, the university and Nike have sought to preclude former Ohio State football players from selling jerseys or replicate jerseys that would have their names and number on them as for-profit ventures while continuing to sell the same to the open market for the benefit of Nike and/or the university.”

Spielman alleges OSU and IMG are engaging in unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act. He also says the defendants violated the Lanham Act because class members did not consent to the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The former Buckeye linebacker wants a judge to order a permanent injunction prohibiting the commercial marketing, sale and use of current and former OSU football players’ names and likenesses with corporate sponsors. He also wants the “offending products” – including banners, jerseys, pictures and other marketing materials – confiscated and destroyed.

In addition, the lawsuit seeks attorney fees and an accounting of the transactions at issue to calculate the total damages.

“Evidently, defendants are attempting to persuade Ohio Stadium visitors to purchase certain products and/or supplies because said products and/or supplies perform at a high level, just like plaintiff and class members did while they were participating in sporting events while attending OSU,” the complaint states.

OSU and IMG did not immediately respond Monday to email requests for comment.

Duncan, of BKD Legal in Sunbury, Ohio, said the goal of the class action “is to come to an agreement with the university as well as these corporations to form the joint ventures and partnerships by and along all parties so that everybody can continue to benefit accordingly.”

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