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Court Holds Football Players’ Claims Fail To Thread American Needle

Posted  June 27, 2012

Football players’ antitrust claims that the National Football League (“NFL”) and teams conspired to deprive them of their rights to football game footage are being kicked out of court after a federal judge found that the plaintiffs had failed to come within the Supreme Court’s holding in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, 130 S. Ct. 2201 (2010).

Judge Paul A. Magnusen of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota has dismissed with prejudice a putative class action antitrust lawsuit brought in Washington v. National Football League by retired NFL players against the NFL, NFL Ventures, L.P., NFL Productions, LLC, NFL Enterprises, LLC, and each of the 32 NFL teams.

The plaintiffs, former professional athletes seeking to represent a class of similarly situated individuals, alleged that the defendants monopolized the market for former players’ images and likenesses in violation of the Sherman Act by not allowing them the rights to films and images from their games.

The court found that the plaintiffs’ claims failed to come within the holding of American Needle that the NFL and its teams might, in some instances, be capable of concerted action in violation of the Sherman Act.

Specifically, Judge Magnusen found that American Needle does not support plaintiffs’ contentions because that Supreme Court decision involved intellectual property that each team owned individually.  By contrast, the intellectual property involved in this case is historical football game footage – something that the individual teams do not separately own.  Judge Magnusen found this distinction dispositive on the ground that the NFL and its teams could not be considered to have conspired with respect to property that the teams and the NFL collectively owned.

The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege any antitrust violation from defendants’ conduct.  Judge Magnusen stated that “[i]f the NFL is refusing to pay Plaintiffs for the use of their images in its copyrighted material, then Plaintiffs may have a claim for a violation of their right of publicity.… What they have are claims for royalties, not claims for antitrust.  The Complaint is therefore dismissed with prejudice.”

Tagged in: Antitrust Litigation, Intellectual Property Law and Antitrust, Monopolization,