The effects of the Coronavirus is being felt in every industry. The sports industry is no different, but that has not stopped lawsuits involving LeBon James, Jimmy Butler, and Lamar Jackson. Roughly two weeks ago the NBA suspended their season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the Coronavirus. Soon after, his teammate Donavan Mitchell tested positive. Both players have recently been cleared of the Coronavirus. However, the continued reality of the threat of the Coronavirus led the MBL, NHL, and MLS to suspend their seasons as well. The NCAA was forced to cancel all spring sports and the March Madness tournament. Most recently, Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the 2020 Summer Games to 2021.
Accordingly, sports fans are relying on the rebroadcasts of classic games for entertainment. Even though the entertainment portion of the sports has come to an unexpected halt, the business of sports keeps turning. This is especially true in the realm of sports law. In the last week, three lawsuits involving some of sports favorite athletes came to light. Two cases involve two of the NBA’s most notable players, LeBron James and Jimmy Butler. The third case involves the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player of the Year, Lamar Jackson.
Hold on King James…That Photo Does not Belong to You
During LeBron James’ 17-year career, he has been the focal point of some pretty iconic NBA photos. There are photos of James blocking Andre Iguodala’s shot in game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. There is the iconic photo of Dwayne Wade and King James on the Miami Heat when James lays down a monster slam dunk. Before the NBA season was abruptly halted by the Coronavirus, King James was caught in yet another timeless photo. On December 19, 2019 photographer, Steven Mitchell was working the Lakers versus Heat game. Mitchell caught an awesome moment of King James dunking over Meyers Leonard.
Soon after the game, the photo was cropped and posted to James’s Facebook account. The post, which is still up has received over one thousand likes, has been shared 92 times, and has 61 comments. The picture was also posted on James’ Instagram Account. There it received over 2 million likes. To many, this may not seem like a big deal. What could be wrong with James posting a picture of himself? The answer is that it could be a copyright law violation. Accordingly, the photographer, Steven Mitchell, sued LeBron James alleging that posting the photo onto James’ social media platforms infringed on his copyright law protections.
Does James’ Post Violate Mitchell’s Rights in the Photo Under Copyright Law?
Copyright is an intellectual property right grounded in the United States Constitution. Authors are granted copyright protection for their original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright protection applies to photos. As such, Mitchell sued LeBron James, Uninterrupted Digital Ventures, and LRMR Ventures for copyright infringement. Mithcell alleges that James and the other defendants infringed on his copyright in the photo when it was cropped and posted on James’s Facebook and Instagram pages without Mitchell’s consent. The complaint asserts that Uninterrupted Digital Ventures and LRMR Ventures operate James’ Facebook page. Mitchell requests a jury trial to determine whether the federal Copyright Act was violated. He also seeks damages up to $150,000 per infringement.
Independent Sports and Entertainment Says Jimmy Butler Needs to Pay Up
Independent Sports and Entertainment (ISE) is telling Miami Heat star, Jimmy Butler, to “show them the money.” ISE has sued Jimmy Butler for breaching a Public Relations Agreement (PR Agreement) he entered into with them in July of 2013. ISE is an integrated sport, media, entertainment, and management company that represents talent throughout the entertainment industry. ISE assists professional athletes’ with their off the field and off the court activities. In the complaint, ISE alleges that Jimmy Butler breached their PR Agreement by failing to give them their share of profits from two deals Butler made with Nike.
Per the PR Agreement, Butler is required to pay ISE a 15% gross compensation fee in exchange for ISE’s services assisting with his personal marketing and public relations. ISE alleges that while Butler was under the PR Agreement, he entered into a contract with Nike where he earned $616,666,67. ISE has not received its 15 percent commission in the amount of $92,250. Butler later entered into an addendum on the contract. On the addendum, Butler received at least 5 million dollars. ISE has not received its 15% commission in the amount of $750,000 on the addendum.
In the complaint, ISE stipulates that the non-breaching party must provide notice of the breach to the breaching party and allow the breaching party 30 days to cure the breach. ISE alleges that they provided written notice to Butler and made attempts to collect the amounts due. Furthermore, ISE alleges that they were put in contact with Butler’s financial advisor Ken Kavanaugh who acknowledged that Butler owed the 15% fee and that payment would follow. The payment never came leading ISE to file this suit. Per the complaint, ISE is seeking damages for the amounts owed on the Nike contract and addendum.
Lamar Jackson Tells Amazon to Stop Selling his Unauthorized Merchandise
Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback, Lamar Jackson, filed suit against Amazon.com and Amazon.com Services, Inc. (hereafter collectively referred to as Amazon) in a federal district court for infringing on his right to publicity. In the complaint, Jackson alleges that Amazon has directly advertised and sold items bearing Jackson’s name, nicknames, and images without being authorized to do so by him or the NFL. The alleged infringing items include items such as a “LAMARVELOUS Vintage Baltimore Football QB Jackson MVP T-Shirt.” In the complaint, Jackson acknowledges that Amazon had received negative publicity for facilitating the sale of items that infringe on others’ intellectual property rights by third parties in the Amazon Marketplace. However, Jackson contends that the sale of his items is different in that the sale of his items are not in the Amazon marketplace.
Jackson contends that the infringing items at issue are directly falsely promoted and advertised by Amazon as they are designated as “ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” Jackson claims to have requested that Amazon remove and stop selling the items in question. However, Amazon has failed to so. As such, Jackson seeks a permanent injunction requiring Amazon to stop the sale of the items in question. Jackson alleges that the unauthorized sale of items bearing his name, image, and likeness on Amazon has negatively affected his own clothing line business. Accordingly, Jackson also seeks damages and disgorgement of Amazon’s profits.
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