The former Wales and Lions winger, Shane Williams, has found that his image is being used by a builder to endorse his business. Mr. Taylor, the owner of TMW Roofline, has been using Mr. Williams’ photos on his van and business website without Mr. Williams’ express permission.
Mr. Williams stated that Mr. Taylor had carried out some work on the Welsh rugby star’s house 10 years ago but has never been officially associated with TMW Roofline: “the agreement was [he would] do the work and I would give him a testimonial and a photograph… and that’s about as far as it goes. I don’t work with the company, I’m not involved with the company and I certainly haven’t received a penny”. Mr. Taylor has since responded by saying that he had removed the rugby athlete’s photograph from his paperwork and that there was no intention to mislead any party on his website.
The legal issue at hand is the fact that Mr. Taylor’s image was used without his express permission. In today’s modern sporting world, athletes are able to profit not just from their performances in their chosen sport, but also from key sponsorship and endorsement deals with leading global brands – for example, Roger Federer recently pocketed $300 million from his new sponsorship deal with Japanese apparel brand UNIQLO.
Ultimately, athletes and brands both profit from the commercialisation of the former’s image rights: by associating a superstar sportsperson with a particular brand or product, a brand will boost its reputation and profitability whilst the athlete will receive additional income in the form of royalty payments (or a licence fee) for their image to be exploited. A potential negative effect of using someone’s image, which has not been properly procured (as is the case with Mr. Williams’ photo being associated with Mr. Taylor’s business), is not only that the athlete is not compensated for the use of their image but more importantly that the athlete risks becoming associated with substandard products or businesses and damages their image or reputation.
Mr. Williams has said that he will be taking legal advice on this matter. It would appear that his legal options will vary from requesting retrospective payments for the unauthorised use of his image and/or strong legal undertakings (i.e. legal promises) to ensure Mr. Taylor does not use his image in the future.
At Mackrell Turner Garrett, we regularly advise sports personalities in the registration, protection and exploitation of their intellectual property (IP) rights. If you have any concerns about protecting your IP and would like to discuss the steps you can take, please contact a member of our experienced sports team.
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