Given the way in which sports—even collegiate sports—have become so heavily branded, merchandised, and televised, another area of law that routinely intersects sports is intellectual property—namely copyright, trademark, licensing, and the all-but-forgotten right-of-publicity. For example, the University of Alabama sued the artist who painted this picture commemorating the Tide’s 2010 BCS National Championship. The artist, Daniel Moore, won summary judgment in the district court (pdf decision here), but the case is currently on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit.
And in 2005, fantasy sports league operator CBC Distribution filed suit against Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM, MLB’s Internet division) after CBC was denied a new licensing agreement with the players’ association giving it the rights to player profiles and statistics.
MLB argued that the league owned intellectual property rights in the players’ right-of-publicity, which made it unlawful for fantasy leagues to profit from the identities or statistics of MLB players. In 49-page order granting summary judgment to the fantasy league, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Medler said that even if the league did have intellectual property rights in the players’ stats and likenesses, the First Amendment trumped the league’s property interest, because the information that the fantasy leagues disseminate are facts. Facts, Medler, wrote, appear in newspapers everyday. Nobody can own them. (CBC v. MLBAM pdf file)
Paul Weiler’s textbook Sports and the Law (see previous post) is nearly 1200 pages long, yet it devotes fewer than 100 pages to sports and IP law. In fact, in that single chapter of the book that addresses IP, Weiler tackles broadcast rights, copyright ownership, player publicity rights, trademarks, and group marketing of IP rights. By contrast, the book has three chapters on antitrust, two on labor relations, and even has a full chapter devoted to Title IX and intercollegiate sports. But because of how every sports franchise, conference, and league is continuously exploring how to increase the revenue earned from their branding and intellectual property, IP law, will nonetheless continue to impact the sports world for many years to come.
So what about entertainment law? I realize that I just devoted three entire posts to explain sports law, and even though this is the Sports & Entertainment Law Playbook, I haven’t so much as mentioned entertainment law. Again, there is no such body of law per se, though there are so-called entertainment lawyers. I happen to be one of them. Like sports and the law, there are many different areas of law that intersect with the entertainment industry, although IP is probably the most prevalent. Artwork, sheet music, and sound recordings all need copyright and in some circumstances, trademark protection. Also, composers routinely license their scores and compositions to filmmakers and advertisers. This process inevitably involves attorneys. And just like professional athletes, artists, actors, and musicians work under contracts as well, and they also need competent legal counsel to represent their interests during negotiation. The record companies, opera houses, and concert promoters are certainly going to come to the table with the best attorneys that money can buy, so it behooves the artist to also come prepared.