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Intellectual Property

More Legal Troubles for the NFL; Retired Player Files Class Action to Protect Retirees’ Images

UPDATE: On July 13th, ex-Green Bay Packer, Darrell Thompson, filed a similar class action lawsuit in the District of Minnesota. View or download the complaint filed in Thompson v. NFL, 11-01900 (D. Minn. 07-13-11).


Sports Illustrated called NFL Films "the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America." Whether that's true or not, retired NFL player, Fred Barnett, thinks the NFL and NFL Films is, at the very least, an effective organ for false endorsement and misappropriation of the right of publicity.

On July 5th, Mr. Barnett sued the National Football League for using the images of retired players. In filing the class action complaint, Mr. Barnett and the class seek to "obtain their fair share of the revenues the NFL has earned, and will earn, by its use of retired players' identities."

The proposed class which Mr. Barnett seeks to represent is composed of:

All persons who played professional football for any NFL member team, who are retired or no longer active, and whose name, voice, image, likeness, or other indicia of identity has been used by the NFL to promote the NFL or any of its member teams, sell products or services, or otherwise to increase the brand awareness or obtain revenue for the NFL or any of its member teams.

In accusing the NFL of false endorsement and misappropriation of the right of publicity, Mr. Barnett acknowledges that the NFL's standard player contracts require active players to grant the NFL the authority to use the players' names, images, and likenesses to publicize and promote the NFL. However, Mr. Barnett alleges that any such assignments do not apply to retired players, as their player contracts are, by definition, no longer in force.

Mr. Barnett further alleges.

NFL Films produced and distributed a production called "The Complete History Philadelphia Eagles" in 1994. Plaintiff Barnett appears as a performer in the production. The NFL also creates an entire line of NFL Films productions for each team, for each year. Regardless of the team's performance, the productions paint the season in the most positive, promotional light possible. NFL Films produced and distributed "Video Yearbook" productions for the Philadelphia Eagles throughout the 1990's. Plaintiff Barnett was the team's starting wide receiver from 1990-95 and as such appears regularly in these promotional films.


Plaintiff and all members of the Class whom the NFL has used to generate revenue are readily identifiable because they are portrayed by name, image, uniform, number, and other unique indicia. In addition, on information and belief, the NFL has digitized its entire NFL Films library and archives so that Plaintiff and class members may be searched for and isolated by year, game, team, and even player name.

View or download the entire complaint filed in Fred Barnett vs. National Football League, 11-01782 (D. Minn. 07/05/11)

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