In the latest attempt by student athletes to gain compensation for use of their images, an Ohio State University alumnus has sued the school for using his likeness, long after he graduated, without providing compensation or obtaining consent.
Former linebacker Charles C. Spielman played on the school’s football team from 1984 through 1987 and holds the school’s record for solo tackles. He followed his college career with 12 years in the National Football League. Filing suit on behalf of himself as well as current and former Buckeyes football players, Spielman also named IMG College as a defendant and added the school’s corporate partners Honda and Nike as co-conspirators.
“While OSU and its for-profit business partners reap millions of dollars from revenue streams including television contracts, rebroadcasts of ‘classic’ games, DVD game and highlight film sales and rentals, ‘stock footage’ sales to corporate advertisers and others, photograph sales, and jersey and other apparel sales, former student-athletes in the Class whose likenesses are utilized to generate those profit-centers receive no compensation whatsoever,” according to the complaint.
For some players, the violations continue in perpetuity, as the use of their images continues long after they stop attending the school or participating in the football program, Spielman said. As part of a licensing deal with Honda, for example, Ohio State displays banners around its stadium featuring the images of former players (including Spielman), while Nike has a licensing deal with the school to sell “Legends of the Scarlet and gray” vintage Ohio State jerseys.
In addition to running afoul of the Lanham Act, the actions of the defendants violate the Sherman Act “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 the cessation of intercollegiate athletic competition,” the lawsuit claimed.
Spielman requested an injunction halting the use of the plaintiffs’ images without compensation or consent, as well as monetary damages (trebled under the federal antitrust laws), disgorgement and restitution.
To read the complaint in Spielman v. IMG College, LLC, click here. Link: I sent PDF
Why it matters: The defendant’s continued use of the images of Spielman and his fellow football players long after they graduate or stop playing football “wipes out” their future ownership interest in their own images, the suit alleges, and creates a “perpetual system of unjust usage and restriction.” The complaint notes that all the major professional sports have identified and utilized group licensing methods to share revenues among teams and players, which demonstrates that less restrictive alternatives than the current model do exist. The complaint is the latest effort by college athletes to obtain compensation for use of their images. They have sought recovery under copyright law and sought damages from video game manufacturers over realistic avatars.