IMAGE RIGHTS IN SPORTS: A Brief Look


Written by Ugochuwku Johnson Amadi

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Strictly speaking, image rights are the entirety of rights an individual has on their person in relation to the prerogative to commercially exploit those rights to the exclusion of others subject to the payment of a license fee to the said individual either directly or indirectly. Image rights exploitation is a multi-billion pound revenue stream and this exploitation is usually driven by the premise that the popularity of a celebrity is capable of driving sales in an upward trajectory. Based on this premise sports professionals are now usually in the habit of granting licenses to companies in exchange for financial considerations.

Sports practitioners whether athletes, trainers or other sports professionals are all entitled to image rights. It is important to understand that at this point of legal development whether internationally or domestic there is no holistic legal protection for image rights. In fact in the United Kingdom there is a reluctance to grant legal protection to image rights and this sentiment may be predicated on the desire not to further enrich already wealthy celebrities by virtue of law or statutory enactment.

However, sports professionals have been able to develop ingenuous ways of commercially exploiting their image rights that usually involves a reliance on several legal arrangements that have the semblance of a protection cocktail. Usually these arrangements include a reliance on trademark and contractual agreements. However, the must successful sports professionals like England international Wayne Rooney and Manchester United legend David Beckham all register companies and then assign their names (which been registered as trademarks) to the registered company. These companies have the responsibility of managing these rights and entering into license/endorsement agreements with third parties.

My take on the present situation is that while popular and already established sports professionals like the examples above will not have any problem with respect to protecting and exploiting their sports rights it is quite a different story for upcoming sports talents. Therefore, in my opinion, it is necessary to enact a sports image rights law that will have as its main objective the protection of the commercial interest in the image rights of sports professionals.

In conclusion, I would say protecting the commercial interest of image rights of sports professionals is consonance with John Locke’s labour principle that stipulates that any person that labours should be entitled to the highest benefit or reward from that labour.

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