United States: Fan Sues NFL For $25 Million Alleging Theft Of Idea For Original NFL Network Series

A Los Angeles resident has sued the National Football League, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and eight NFL employees in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleging theft of intellectual property. Representing himself pro se, Plaintiff, Rickey B. Reed, claims that he developed the concept for an original production profiling the lives of aspiring young athletes who dream of playing in the NFL; an idea he claims is remarkably similar to a show aired on the NFL Network in late 2014.

Reed attaches a batch of emails addressed to numerous NFL employees dating back to August 2013 in which Reed describes his concept for an original show titled "NFL: The Next Generation":

In any given year 100,000 guys may play high school football, 10,0000 guys may play at the colligate level, but after that the numbers take a dip that is steeper than a bungee jump down the side of Mount Everest when the selection committee only invites 332 players to participate in the 2013 NFL scouting combine. These figures translate into a great number of broken hearts and enough man tears to float a cruise ship from California to Czechoslovakia.

* * *

This is the football version of (American Idol) seated in the heart of an unofficial NFL combine that will give these rejected and neglected, hungry and thirsty young men a nationally televised platform to prove the experts wrong, and to show those who said that they can't, that they can.

In his email pitch, Reed outlined the procedure for evaluating the athletes using NFL combine metrics. Reed envisioned that the show would feature a mixture of segments, including human interest stories and personal profiles. Further, the show would highlight the contestants' physical attributes to appeal to... um... a wider audience:

People are interested in interesting people so our contestants will be personalized before our viewers. Of course we expect our contestants to be tough, but when they are sexy as well, we will exploit that quality to lock in female viewers, who are for the most part born with a dedicated spirit.

Five days later, Reed received a letter from the NFL's legal department indicating that the NFL has a policy prohibiting unsolicited proposals. The letter further stated that the NFL had no interest in his production, and that all materials submitted would be returned to him unread.

Reed alleges that, in January 2015, he took his show idea to a local gym to discuss it with "a guy [he] knows who is a former NFL player." After reviewing the concept, the unidentified player informed Reed that he had seen a similar show on the NFL Network, referring to a six-part original series produced by the NFL Network titled "Undrafted," which the NFL Network describes as follows:

Every year, thousands of college football players leave school with dreams of achieving a career in the NFL. Of those, 256 players are selected in the NFL Draft. The remaining – the undrafted – are forced to overcome another obstacle to pursue their dream.

Reed alleges that the NFL took the concept without compensation, constituting a "great injustice that can only be effectively dealt with by imposing jail time and steep punitive damages." Reed asserts causes of action for breach of implied-in-fact contract, breach of confidence," and a statutory claim under California's Business & Professions Code.

Reed seeks combined total damages of $25 million, representing "1.25% of the $2 billion in revenue gain by [the NFL] related to media income in 2014, and approximately 0.28% of the [NFL's] total earnings for the same year which was $9 billion." (Reed does not source his statistics – in fact, league revenue in 2014 was likely closer to $11 billion, with a significantly higher portion coming from broadcast rights/media.)

Reed further requests that the District Court enter an order restraining the NFL from using, broadcasting, advertising, selling, or distributing all content related to Reed's alleged concept. In his final prayer, Reed asks for relief that may or may not be within the District Court's inherent equitable powers:

[O]rder any and all other favorable relief that should be granted to [Reed], as [Reed] has been victimized by the evil and deceptive method of robbery that has been practiced by industry giants for decades, as they have lusted after, lied, coveted and stolen from artist [sic], writers, inventors and creators of the fruit of their God given talent, oppressing the artist and denying him and his family the benefits that are a direct result of the use of his talents, and using the benefits of the artists to fill their own bank accounts, live in houses that the artist should be living in, driving cars that the artist should be driving, and stealing credit for successful products that rightfully belong to the artists. . . .

Reed only recently filed the suit and the docket does not contain an affidavit or waiver of service, meaning the NFL likely has not yet received a copy of the Complaint. The NFL did, however, address the issue in a January 12, 2015 letter responding to numerous emails by Reed complaining of infringement, stating:

The NFL takes intellectual property concerns very seriously. However, a review of [the] matter indicates that there has not been any misappropriation or unauthorized use of [Reed's] purported intellectual property.

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