The District Court of Amsterdam has held, in its 9 August 2017 decision, that Riot Games has infringed the image rights of the famous soccer star Edgar Davids.

Riot Games is the publisher of the online game League of Legends, one of the biggest video games in the world. With more than 67 million people playing the game per month and more than 43 million views for its annual World Championship (more views than for the NBA Finals), it is safe to say that this game is very successful and popular.

In its online League of Legends game, Riot Games had introduced a 'striker' skin that converted the 'Champion Lucian' avatar in 'Striker Lucian'. With this skin applied, Striker Lucian looks like an athletic soccer player, who sports and has dreadlocks and goggles. With this skin, the character looked very similar to (the image of) Edgar Davids, a retired soccer player with orange-tinted goggles, dreadlocks and a muscular build. Because of this resemblance, augmented by the fact that both players wear soccer uniforms, Edgar Davids claimed infringement of its image rights under Dutch copyright law.

The Court held that the combination of these elements (dreadlocks, goggles, a dark skin color, sporty posture and aggressive play style, combined with a football uniform) will make the public identify 'Striker Lucian' as Edgar Davids. The Court refers to the many messages in the social media from players and other persons confirming this finding. The defence was further weakened after evidence was submitted of a Riot employee confirming in a tweet that Davids was the inspiration for the skin, see below:

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Interestingly, Riot's plea on its fundamental rights of freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights) was dismissed. The Court held that Edgar David's reasonable interests in opposing the disclosure of his image without compensation, outweigh this right of freedom of expression.

The Court awarded the injunction and ordered Riot to pay the damages sustained by Edgar Davids. To calculate the damages, the Court has ordered Riot to submit to the Court documents and auditors' statements indicating the turnover and profit realized by Riot Games in the Netherlands with the operation of Striker Lucian within the game.

Public figures, including soccer players like Johan Cruijf and Marco van Basten have previously sued parties for infringement of their image rights in the Netherlands. However, this most was mostly in an offline context. This interesting case shows that image rights cases involving public figures, featuring in (online) games, are strictly enforced in the Netherlands.

The full text of the decision (in Dutch): ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2017:5415