SBD/December 12, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Judge Denies NFL's Effort To Restrict Claims In NFL Films Case Due To Time Limits

A federal judge yesterday turned down the NFL’s effort to further time-restrict claims by former players that NFL Films has illegally used their images. The development comes as settlement talks have collapsed between the two sides, with the judge readying a new scheduling order, which means litigation will continue. The judge appeared to back the retirees' central claim, which is that the contracts they signed did not give the league their image rights past the expiration of those deals, as the NFL argues. “To the extent the contracts even addressed publicity rights at all, none of the contracts extended the NFL’s control over the players’ publicity rights past the expiration of the contracts,” wrote Minnesota District Court Judge Paul Magnuson. “Because the written player contracts contained no provision for post-expiration publicity rights, either some other (oral or written) agreement governed or there was no agreement whatsoever and the NFL cannot use Plaintiffs’ publicity rights." The retirees and NFL already had agreed that a statute of limitations restricted claims for use of the players images in materials no more than six years before the lawsuit, Dryer v NFL, was filed on Aug. 29, 2009, meaning nothing before Aug. 25, 2003. But the league argued that various state laws could compress the time period even more. Magnuson said it was premature at this stage to rule on the issue. It is unclear the importance of Magnuson’s comment on the player contracts -- a comment that appears to undercut the league’s main argument. However, it came within a ruling on a motion not on the core merits of the case, but on the more arcane issue over statute of limitations (the NFL has not filed a motion to dismiss the case on the merits). The judge also added the expired contracts could be used as evidence of the NFL’s expectation of publicity rights.
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