Using a football player's name and number

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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DH1718
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Using a football player's name and number

Post by DH1718 »

Hi,

I work with a sports betting platform and for introductions of players to the platform I wanted to put together a graphic to use on social media, showing the player's name and number as it would appear on the back of their shirt, along with some stats for the season. Would using their name and shirt number, along with club colours, be any sort of infringement of their rights (or those of kit makers, clubs, etc)?

To be clear, we are not using any fonts or logos, simply the back-of-shirt design along with names and correct numbers.

Thanks,

DH
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AndyJ
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Re: Using a football player's name and number

Post by AndyJ »

Hi DH1718,

There are certainly no copyright issues involved in what you would like to do. Facts like a person's name or the number he (or she) wears on their shirt cannot be protected by copyright. Similarly colours alone cannot be protected. Obviously if someone creates a very elaborate pattern of colours as a team strip this might begin to be treated as an artistic work, but I don't think we've reached that stage yet in the UK. I only mention this aspect because in 2017 there was an important case (known as Star Athletica v Varsity Brands*) in which the US Supreme Court found that the individual designs of cheerleader costumes could attract copyright.

The area of the law where you run the greatest risk of a problem arising is over trade marks. While there are some famous footballers who have registered their names as trade marks that is unlikely to cause you grief because you would clearly be using their name in its proper context, namely to identify the individual, rather than in the course of trade which is where trade mark infringement can emerge. Shirts numbers won't be affected by trade mark law as they lack any novelty or acquired distinctiveness, even though some players are closely associated with a particular number (eg the late Diego Maradona and number 10). Colours can be registered as trade marks (one of the more famous ones being the purple colour associated with Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate which Cadbury's was forced to give up last year), however I am not aware of any team shirt colours having been registered in this way. Perhaps Newcastle's black and white stripes come the closest, within some of their registered marks. As you have said you will carefully avoid reproducing any fonts and logos (of both the clubs and their sponsors), I think there only a very slight risk that you might get some push back from any of the clubs, and if you do, it will mostly be a bit of sabre-rattling rather than because they have any watertight claim against you.

* For the sake of clarity, the issue in that case was not whether copyright existed in the design or pattern on costumes, but about whether utilitarian items such as clothing was eligible for copyright protection. The US Supreme Court said they could.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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