Forty Retirees Pick a Bone With the NFL

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Forty retired football players filed trademark infringement lawsuits against the NFL this week, claiming they were not paid for the use of their identities in films and products that promoted the league’s “glorification” of its past.
     Among the plaintiffs in the 40 lawsuits are Marcus Anderson, Stacey Bailey, Bobby Abrams Jr., Chidi Ahanotu and James Baker.
     They sued the National Football League, NFL Films, and NFL Productions in Federal Court on Wednesday and Thursday.
     The players claim the NFL used their names, images and likenesses in their films to promote the NFL, sell products, and generate income, but never paid them for it.
     “The NFL defendants’ glorification of NFL history is a vital component of its present marketing and revenue-generation efforts,” the players say.
     “NFL defendants produce commercial and promotional films highlighting the NFL’s past, utilizing raw footage of former players taken from their voluminous archive of filmed professional football games and related events, and developing brand new promotional and marketing products based on that footage.”
     Similar lawsuits have been filed as long ago as 2009. John Dryer et al. filed a class action that year, which the NFL settled in March this year, agreeing to release $42 million to a fund to set up a licensing agency to market the players’ publicity rights.
     In 2011, three more class-actions, led by Darrell Thompson, Fred Barnett and Gene Washington, were filed against the league.
     Plaintiffs in the Washington suit claimed the NFL violated antitrust laws when it generated revenue through the unauthorized use of their identities.
     Henri Crockett filed his own lawsuit, alleging Lanham Act violations against the league, also in 2011.
     In this week’s lawsuits, the players claim the NFL broadcasts “hundreds of hours” of NFL Films and productions featuring retired players each year. “In addition to selling NFL Films, the NFL defendants license NFL Films and the identities of retired NFL Players for numerous other commercial purposes.”
     But that’s not all the players are griping about.
     “The NFL also prohibits retired NFL players, including plaintiff, from using their own names, images, likenesses, symbols, and other indicia of identity as players to promote themselves commercially or otherwise profit,” the complaints state. “If, for example, a player attempts/attempted to promote himself or his business by showing footage of himself as a player, the NFL would immediately order him to cease. The NFL does, in certain circumstances, allow such promotional uses by retired players, but only if a player pays the NFL exorbitant sums for the right to do so. Even then, the player is at the mercy of the NFL, which maintains the ability to withdraw its permission at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all.”
     The players seek damages for unjust enrichment and Lanham Act violations. They also seek to prohibit the NFL from broadcasting, distributing or disseminating any product using their identities.
     They are represented by Jason Luckasevic, with Goldberg, Persky & White, of Pittsburgh.

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