Network Sued for Using Boxing Legend’s Identity

identity, Naperville business law attorneyWhen you sit down to watch a professional sports contest on television, you expect to see advertisements and promotional pieces that include images of some of the players and coaches apart from the game itself. The broadcast may go to and from commercial breaks with dramatic studio shots of the athletes in an effort to capture the intensity of the moment. You may also see highlight reel footage of past seasons or celebrated moments in the sport’s history. Sometimes, a broadcast will even show images of heroes and legends from other sports.

As a business law attorney, I realize the general public may not give much thought to how networks acquire the rights to use images of certain individuals or footage from competitors’ broadcasts. The process can be complicated, and it is crucial to protecting the intellectual property of others. According to a new federal lawsuit filed in Chicago, however, the network that broadcast this year’s Super Bowl failed to secure the proper rights to use the likeness of one of the most famous athletes of all time.

“The Greatest”

Last week, representatives for Muhammad Ali Enterprises (MAE) filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $30 million in damages against Fox Broadcasting, the network that aired Super Bowl 51 in February. The suit alleges that the network used the late boxing legend’s image and identity in a pregame video with authorization.

The promotional video—titled “The Greatest”—aired as the broadcast of the Super Bowl got underway, and, to many viewers, appeared to be part promo, part tribute to Muhammad Ali. The three-minute video showed footage from various parts of Ali’s career before transitioning to images of football greats and ending with the Super Bowl 51 logo.

Unauthorized Endorsement?

The lawsuit claims that the use of Ali in the video constituted an unauthorized endorsement of the Fox Super Bowl broadcast. MAE reportedly owns the rights to license the use Ali’s identity, as well as intellectual property, publicity, and trademark rights. The entity itself is controlled, in part, by the Muhammad Ali Family Trust.

MAE maintains that the video went well past a reasonable tribute and that it was constructed to appear as if the boxer endorsed Fox and its broadcast. The suit seeks $30 million damages and an injunction to keep Fox from using Ali’s identity without permission in the future. MAE is also asking for an order requiring Fox to delete the video from its online library and any other video outlet.

Fox has declined to comment.

Protecting Your Business

If you are considering using another person’s likeness or images in your advertising campaigns or for any other reason, you must have the proper authorization. An experienced Naperville business law attorney can help you remain in full compliance will applicable intellectual property and publicity laws. Call The Gierach Law Firm at 630-756-1160 to discuss your situation today.




Chicago Tribune