Sensible soccer


It seems that the image rights dispute between Diego Maradona and Konami (producers for PES 2017) has been settled.

The dispute is a reminder of the importance of rights clearance in video games, and other cultural output. And of course it is also a reminder of the many and varied commercial opportunities that sports stars now have, quite aside from their day job.

We're often reminded (by lawyers like me) that we do not have "personality rights" in the UK as they do in some jurisdictions. But we do have "passing off", which is the right to sue when a third party trades off your goodwill without your permission. That has been the case since the famous Eddie Irvine judgment in 2003, which confirmed for the first time in English law that a celebrity sports person could successfully sue for a false endorsement.

Things were quite different before then. I suppose that regardless of the state of the law, the use of a player's likeness in a video game wasn't so much of an issue, seeing as the onscreen characters didn't resemble human beings other than in a rudimentary sense, but they were often name checked. Some games were quite brazen about it. In 1986 Bug-Byte software actually released a game called "Peter Shilton's Handball Maradona!"

Some games preferred the parody route, which I quite enjoyed. One of my favourite games as a youngster was "SuperCars II" which allowed you to race against Nijel Mainsail, Mickey Louder and my personal favourite, Crashhard Banger (Gerhard Berger).

These days image rights licensing for video games is a big deal. Often quite literally. As well as all the usual commercial concerns, depending on the nature of the game, the celebrity may need to think about how his character is going to be portrayed and what constraints there should be, especially if the character be playable. And the brand will need to consider the potential for adverse PR if the real celebrity does anything to harm his (and by extension their) reputation prior to the game coming out.

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The two have reached an out-of-court settlement over Pro Evolution Soccer 2017's alleged use of the footie star's likeness without his permission.