U.S. Soccer Players Lose Battle Over Image Rights

     CHICAGO (CN) — The U.S. men’s national soccer team does not need players’ permission to use their photos in a tequila ad, the Seventh Circuit ruled.
     In 2013, the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association, a soccer players union, objected to the use of players’ likenesses in an advertisement for the tequila el Jimador.
     In a change to prior practice, the U.S. Soccer Federation claimed it was not required to get the union’s approval for such ads if they included the images of six or more players.
     An arbitrator ruled in favor of the union, based on a purported ambiguity in the collective bargaining agreement and the fact that the federation had asked the union for permission in prior instances before approving ads with player likenesses.
     A federal judge upheld the arbitrator’s decision, but the Seventh Circuit reversed it Thursday.
     “The contractual provisions are clear and unambiguous, establishing that the parties contemplated and anticipated the use of player likenesses for six players or more in both non-Spot and Spot mediums,” U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Kanne said, writing for the three-judge panel in a 22-page opinion.
     Spot mediums refer to traditional advertising avenues such as television, while non-spot mediums include product placement, billboards, television show sponsorship and other less traditional mediums.
     The panel found no plausible way to interpret the contract to require player association approval for the tequila ad.
     “The CBA/UPA [collective bargaining agreement/uniform player agreement] was not silent with regard for sponsor use of print creatives; it expressly provided that the US Soccer Federation ‘request, but not require’ a sponsor donation to a player pool. Therefore, there was no ambiguity or gap for the arbitrator to fill, and the Players Association’s argument fails,” Kanne said. (Emphasis in original.)

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