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Dryer v. NFL

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

October 22, 2015, Submitted; February 26, 2016, Filed

No. 14-3428


 [*940]  [***1813]   GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

Appellants John Frederick Dryer, Elvin Lamont Bethea, and Edward Alvin White played professional football in [**2]  the National Football League ("NFL"). They participated in a putative class-action lawsuit in which twenty-three former NFL players sued the NFL on behalf of themselves and similarly situated former players. This suit claimed that films produced by NFL-affiliate NFL Films violated the players' rights under the right-of-publicity laws of various states as well as their rights under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125. Twenty of those players settled their pursue their individual right-of-publicity and Lanham Act claims. The district court1  [*941]  granted the NFL's motion for summary judgment on these claims. We affirm.

NFL Films creates theme-based audio-visual productions ("films") describing significant games, seasons, and players in the NFL's history. The films consist of compilations of game footage and interviews with players, coaches, and other individuals involved in the game. Since 1965, NFL Films has produced hundreds of these films, and many have won awards for the creative elements they employ. The NFL sells copies of the films to individual consumers, and it licenses the right to display the films to distributors [**3]  such as Warner Home Video, Hulu, and ESPN. The league also broadcasts some of the films on its television network and website.

Appellants Dryer, Bethea, and White played in the NFL during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. All three players appear in game footage featured in a number of the films, and all three gave interviews after they retired for use in the films.

The appellants joined twenty other former NFL players in a putative class-action lawsuit against the NFL. The suit alleged that the NFL's use of footage of games in which these players participated violates the common law and statutory rights of publicity of various states. The players brought claims for injunctive relief and damages under these laws as well as a claim for unjust enrichment. The players further claimed that the NFL's use of images depicting them playing football violates the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125.

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814 F.3d 938 *; 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 3435 **; 117 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1812 ***

John Frederick Dryer, Elvin Lamont Bethea, and Edward Alvin White, Plaintiffs - Appellants v. The National Football League, Defendant - Appellee

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

Dryer v. NFL, 55 F. Supp. 3d 1181, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144362 (D. Minn., 2014)


films, players, summary judgment, right-of-publicity, appellants', consumers, rights, Copyright Act, Lanham Act, preempts, endorsement, misleading, advertisement, district court, footage, league, games, subject matter, interviews, football

Civil Procedure, Judgments, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Burdens of Proof, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Copyright Law, Constitutional Copyright Protections, Federal & State Law Interrelationships, Federal Preemption, Subject Matter, Statutory Copyright & Fixation, Scope of Protection, Original Works of Authorship, Fixation Requirement, Perceptibility Requirement, Protected Subject Matter, Audiovisual Works & Motion Pictures, Fixation Requirement, Unprotected Subject Matter, Torts, Invasion of Privacy, Appropriation, Defenses, Business & Corporate Compliance, Federal Unfair Competition Law, False Designation of Origin, Elements of False Designation of Origin