Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Football game banned over player's image rights

Out-Law News | 30 Apr 2003 | 12:00 am | 1 min. read

A Hamburg court ruled on Friday that Electronic Arts can no longer sell its FIFA World Cup 2002 game in Germany because goalkeeper Oliver Kahn did not give permission for his image to be used. The company must compensate Kahn and risks a fine of up to €250,000 if it does not withdraw the product from sale.

Electronic Arts, the California-based games company, used the names and likenesses of real players and teams in the game. According to Gamesindustry.biz, it had obtained a licence for this use from both the European football players' federation (FIFPro) and the German Bundesleague.

However, the Bayern Munich goalkeeper does not belong to either organisation, and did not give permission for his likeness to be used. The game must therefore be withdrawn from sale in Germany.

The image of a celebrity can become a valuable brand in itself. To use that image or the trade marks of a club in a way that implies product endorsement tends to be an expensive mistake.

Electronic Arts (EA) has been here before. As reported by IDG.net, the company previously upset Ajax of Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord of Rotterdam by using the clubs' shirts, names and player images in a game without permission. It settled out of court, buying a licence at a fee that was likely to be above market rate.

Earlier this month, racing driver Eddie Irvine won an appeal to increase his earlier award of damages in an action against Talk Radio over a promotional brochure that featured a doctored photograph of him without permission. The picture showed Eddie Irvine holding a radio to his ear with the words Talk Radio on it.

Irvine had argued that it damaged his reputation and goodwill. The court agreed, ruling that the public would mistakenly think he had endorsed the station. The final damages award was £25,000, based on the sum that Irvine would have expected for a legitimate endorsement deal.

The court has not yet awarded compensation in the Kahn case. According to market research firm Media Control, the game has already sold 180,000 official copies in Germany. The actual number of sales, on which compensation will be based, is likely to be much higher.