Is the NFL committing copyright infringement?

October 30, 2013 12:51 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

It is common for sports photographers to license their photos through third-party agencies, which can then legally distribute the images to various organizations. This process, for example, allows large news organizations like the Associated Press to use said photos alongside their articles.

Generally, this process goes smoothly. However, recently a group of seven photographers filed a federal lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL), Replay Photos, Getty Images and the Associated Press (AP). According to an article on Forbes, the photographers are accusing the organizations of copyright infringement for using photos that were never transferred to them.

"The NFL acquired and used literally thousands of photos with total disregard for the rights of the copyrighted owners," Kevin McCulloch, one of the attorneys for the photographers, said in a statement. "It is shameful that the NFL, a multi-billion dollar empire committed to protecting its own intellectual property, would demonstrate such total disregard for the rights of other content owners merely to avoid paying market-appropriate licensing fees."

McCulloch also stated that, as freelance photographers, his clients relied on the royalties from their copyrighted works to make a living. They are not paid regular salaries by the NFL or any other agency.

Part of the problem stems from a dispute between Getty Images and the NFL. Though it granted Getty exclusive commercial licensing rights on photos on 2007, the NFL decided in 2009 to accept a bid from the AP. Getty apparently threatened to remove photos taken by the plaintiffs if they did not continue to license their work with Getty—something that the photographers reportedly refused to do.

It is not yet clear based on news reports how the NFL will respond to these charges of copyright infringement. It is clear, however, that this cases is developing into something that could use the input of a Phoenix business attorney.

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