|[August 20, 2013]
Hagens Berman: Retired NFL Hall-of-Famers File Lawsuit, Challenge NFL Films' Use of Players' Images
SEATTLE --(Business Wire)--
A group of accomplished retired NFL players, Hagens Berman and attorney
Bob Stein today filed a class-action lawsuit against NFL Films
challenging the uncompensated use of the players' images, saying an
existing proposed settlement falls short of fairly protecting the
publicity rights of retired players.
The plaintiffs in the new case - Culp v. NFL Films - include five NFL
hall-of-famers: Curley Culp, John Riggins, Ron Yary, Dave Casper and Tom
Mack. The suit also includes five other notable players: Phil
Villapiano, Willie Buchanon, Joe Kapp, Mike Bass and 1969 league MVP
The case is a class action seeking to represent all former NFL players
who have opted out of the Dryer litigation, many of whom have concluded
that the proposed Dryer settlement does not adequately value their
The new suit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, and alleges
that NFL Films continues to use film footage of retired players in a
variety of highly valuable commercial purposes, but does not compensate
them for the use of their likenesses.
NFL Films, an in-house production company owned by the NFL, produces
high-quality promotional content from the NFL Films' library of NFL
players' game performances. The content is used as programming on the
NFL network, is licensed to other networks like ESPN (News - Alert) and HBO, and is
used by NFL network broadcasting partners.
The content, according to the lawsuit, is a key promotional vehicle for
the league, helping its efforts to increase domestic interest in the
league and expand interest to international audiences.
The suit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by former NFL player and
attorney Bob Stein, who played eight seasons, later becoming the
founding CEO and president of the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves, and Steve
Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. Berman is
the lead attorney in a similar case, Keller v. NCAA, where
student-athletes are challenging the NCAA's ability to sell their
likeness to video-game publishers.
"I am pleased to see there are other players who also see the Dryer
settlement is inadequate and unfair and want to provide retired players
a meaningful settlement which more squarely tackles the financial
windfall NFL Films has made through the misappropriation of our
likenesses over the years," said Fred Dryer, the former NFL player,
movie and television actor and plaintiff in the lawsuit that carries his
According to Berman, the new case brings to bear a number of new legal
arguments missing from the original Dryer suit and - if successful -
should provide all retired players meaningful compensation based on a
fair share of the value that the NFL receives from using player-identity
rights, particularly in NFL Films.
"We anticipate spending a great deal of time determining the amount of
value NFL Films has created over the years to give us a better
appreciation of the financial magnitude of this case, something that
didn't happen in the Dryer case," Berman added.
"The deal cut with the NFL in our original lawsuit does not guarantee a
single dollar will be paid directly to any retired player, even the ones
who are most needy," Dryer continued. "Instead, NFL payments mainly go
to supplement programs and charities which already exist. I've
demonstrated what I think of this settlement by opting out, and I know
many other players are doing the same thing."
The named plaintiffs who brought the Culp NFL Films suit were originally
supporters of the Dryer case until learning the details of the
settlement, at which time they opted out of the settlement.
"When I talk to other retired players and tell them that perhaps the
biggest benefit of the proposed settlement is that they can apply for
help from a list of existing charities, the reaction is a combination of
anger, disbelief and sadness," said former NFL quarterback Roman
Gabriel. "I believe that this new lawsuit gives those former NFL players
who opted out of the Dryer settlement the best chance for justice."
"This situation is particularly galling for the retired NFL player who
never made more than $20,000 a year, now counting his pennies to pay for
his medication, while his image is on the TV screen, promoting a $10
billion organization," said College Football Hall of Fame inductee Joe
Kapp. "I believe NFL Films has a legal - and a moral - obligation to pay
retired players a fair share of the value the league makes from using
The new complaint points out that unless a player vests by playing in
the league a number of years, the league ordinarily does not pay him any
pension or other benefit.
"Less than half of the NFL players played long enough to vest, typically
forced from the game because of injury," said Curly Culp, a former
defensive lineman inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier
this month. "If we are successful in this case, many of these players
will finally see some financial benefit in their retirement."
The new suit includes several causes of action including False
Endorsement under the Lanham Act, claims under New Jersey unfair
competition statutes and a general claim of unjust enrichment, charging
that NFL Films received revenue through unlawful violations of the right
"We played by the rules during our pro careers, and all we are asking is
for the NFL to play by the rules now that we have retired," said John
Riggins, who played 14 seasons in the NFL and was inducted into the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in 1992. "Our contracts only permitted the use of
our images while we played, under player contract; if the NFL wants to
continue using the image, the rules are clear. The NFL must receive our
consent and pay to use us."
"It is unacceptable that the NFL gains the use of every player's
identity forever under the Dryer settlement, but we want to be clear
that we are not attacking the fans or the game," said Dave Casper, Pro
Football Hall of Fame tight-end. "We just want to be fairly paid for the
league's use of our identity, which creates enormous value for the NFL."
According to retired player Ron Yary, he opted out of the Dryer
settlement in order to participate in the new suit. "I looked at my
options, and it was clear to me that I stood a better chance for fair
treatment by leaving the Dryer case and supporting the new Culp v. NFL
Former NFL players, all of whom are included in the proposed settlement,
must opt out by Aug. 30, 2013, if they wish to do so.
Retired NFL players seeking more information about the case can contact:
Additional information about Culp v. NFL Films including plaintiff
biographies and the full complaint is also available at www.hbsslaw.com/cases-and-investigations/cases/NFLFilms.
About Bob Stein
Bob Stein, principal at Bob Stein LLC, is a Minneapolis attorney and
former NFL Football player. During college, he was a two-time
All-American and two-time Academic All-American. In the NFL, he played
eight seasons, including with the 1969 Super Bowl Champion Kansas City
Chiefs. He attended law school full-time while playing. In 1987 Stein
became the founding CEO and president of the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA
franchise. He initiated the Dryer litigation and is co-lead attorney for
the newly filed Culp litigation.
About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP (HBSS) represents consumers,
whistleblowers, investors, workers and others in complex and
class-action litigation. The firm is currently involved in a number of
cases representing athletes on image/likeness issues, as well as a
class-action case dealing with concussions. The firm has offices in nine
cities and has been named to the National Law Journal's Plaintiffs' Hot
List six times. Founded in 1993, HBSS continues to successfully fight
for plaintiffs' rights in large, complex litigation against large
corporations, recovering numerous multimillion-dollar awards. More about
the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com.
Visit the firm's class-action law blog at www.classactionlawtoday.com.
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]