UK: The Games Industry And Sporting Licenses

Last Updated: 23 February 2001
Article by Alex Chapman

Following on from CTW’s report on (issue 792 – 2 June 2000) that Sony, Electronic Arts, Eidos and Infogrammes are being sued by a number of footballers and clubs, this week Alex Chapman looks at the use of famous names in games and the legal implications for the games industry, developers and publishers.

Since the early 80s sportsmen have been happy to lend their names to games, in return for which they have shared in the game’s success.

Using a sportsman’s name in a title will usually result in increased sales, the bigger the name the bigger the sales. Using the names of all the sportsmen in a particular sport within a game may also impact on sales but in a different sense - there are few things more frustrating than getting a game home and finding that David Beckham has become Bavid Deckham or Nigel Mansell is Nigel Mainsail.

However as the recent case of footballers including Euro 2000 stars Abel Xavier, Georgie Hagi and Andre Ilie and clubs including Feyenord and Slavia Prague illustrates, there is a danger that this frustration to customers is a small price to pay for the piece of mind that it will bring for a publisher or developer.

The legal position in relation to the use of sportsmen’s names in products has never been clearly defined in the UK and games have therefore been released with and without proper names. There have been incidents where sportsmen have been conspicuous by their absence from sticker albums but since we are so used to seeing sports papers containing player ratings and images it has seemed illogical for the same names not to be part of a game. However with most sports clubs and sports stars recognising the value of their names as brands and with that value now capable of being represented on the company balance sheet, so the importance of protecting that value has increased.

This has been apparent from the wave of disputes arising from opportunistic domain name registrations. It was therefore only a matter of time before the games industry would be hit, the potential causes of action in England being:

  • passing off (a misrepresentation of association with the subject, likely to deceive the public and causing damage to the subject in the course of business)
  • trade marks (use of a mark identical or similar to and for similar goods and services to a registered trade mark)
  • defamation ("false" words communicated and likely to reduce the subject person in the eyes of a right thinking recipient - libel / slander).

Legal action has been resisted to date because the value of the games companies and names hasn’t justified the expense in what would be the most costly and risky of litigation. An outlay of up to £500,000 may be required in circumstances where a claim could fail if the publisher could show for example that:

  • a description (player rating) was fair comment;
  • the public would not associate the product with the person the inclusion was incidental; or
  • the use of the name was not in the course of business or not in a trade mark sense.

English law has long held that there is a distinction to be made between representing that a person endorses or is associated with a product and incidental inclusion. It has not however been determined whether the inclusion of a name of a footballer like Ronaldo or a club like Manchester United is incidental.

It is also very difficult to obtain a registered trade mark in England for sportsmen or sports clubs. Registration guidelines mean that a person’s name may not be registered if the surname appears more than 30 times in the phone book and a name that includes any geographical location name may not be registered because it describes the place. Tottenham Hotspur for example may claim registrable rights in respect of Hotspur but not Tottenham. There are ways round this such as registering a stylised version of the name or logo or a series of photos of the particular sportsman but the enforceability of these methods is clearly less.

The games industry awaits the outcome of the case running now in Belgium which is brought under laws unique to that country and others with a similar legal system which give individuals special rights in their name and the use of that name. If Abel Xavier and co are successful it may open the floodgates to further litigation including the possibility of action in the English courts. However with the increasing popularity of online gaming and the Internet as a distribution medium no publisher or developer can ignore the impact of foreign laws.

For this reason developers and publishers will be wise to take another look at their dev-pub agreements. This is because many standard games development contracts require the developer to indemnify and hold harmless the publisher in respect of legal action against it for infringing the intellectual property rights of a third party. Such an indemnity may mean that the developer must compensate a publisher in full if it is sued, the objective being to protect the publisher if the developer copies someone else’s code, graphics or designs.

However if such a clause is defined sufficiently broadly, it may apply to trade mark infringement, passing off or even Belgian personality rights. As we have seen above this puts the developer in a difficult position. Alternatively the clause may be such that the publisher is only covered in relation to copyright infringement and therefore applicable to code and designs but not names. The publisher will then only have itself to look to.

For the future developers and publishers will have to be careful of these issues when contracting but there are other ways in which they may help themselves including the use of appropriate disclaimers and proper enquiries in relation to the potential pitfalls. They may also want to reconsider whether it is worth using the names of real people in their games without asking them first - but where would the fun be in that!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.