Everett
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I've been brainstorming ideas for a dice faux TCG of american football. But I was unsure if I could use the names of real players. Just the names, not pics or logos obviously. Would that be legal for a free PnP?
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Leo Zappa
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Toenail21 wrote:
I've been brainstorming ideas for a dice faux TCG of american football. But I was unsure if I could use the names of real players. Just the names, not pics or logos obviously. Would that be legal for a free PnP?


Probably not. The NFL protects its licenses with extraordinary vigor. They make Games Workshop look like rank amateurs in that department.
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desertfox2004 wrote:
Toenail21 wrote:
I've been brainstorming ideas for a dice faux TCG of american football. But I was unsure if I could use the names of real players. Just the names, not pics or logos obviously. Would that be legal for a free PnP?


Probably not. The NFL protests its licenses with extraordinary vigor. They make Games Workshop look like rank amateurs in that department.

Dang it. Maybe I could use a letter and last name? Or just last name?

Kirk Cousins
K. Cousins
Cousins


I doubt they can copyright individual last names.

Besides, its a freebie game that like 20 people will play, that I'm just making to pass the time until Techno Bowl: Arcade Football Unplugged arrives in March (can't wait!), why do they have to be so mean?
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Toenail21 wrote:
I've been brainstorming ideas for a dice faux TCG of american football. But I was unsure if I could use the names of real players. Just the names, not pics or logos obviously. Would that be legal for a free PnP?


In the past, when using celebrities, I've seen charicatures of two similar people (like actors or directors) merged into a single person.

Ford Connery

Lucas Spielburg

Sylvester Swarzenneger

These are obviously not real people, but invoke memories of a leading man, a director or an action hero.

As such, these would fall under parody laws.


I'm not sure you'd get as much bang for your buck with sports entities based on real names. There's a reason they wear numbers.


I am not a lawyer, I am definitely not your laywer. This is an internet forum, take any advice as such.
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Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist
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Legally, I think you might be okay if you're careful about it. Practically, they have much bigger lawyers than you do and much more money to pay them, so don't do it.
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"et son bucher se change en trone dans les cieux."
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    It floors me to think that the NFL might claim ownership of someone else's name, but wouldn't stand it for a second if that person attempted to claim ownership of it for themselves.

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Toenail21 wrote:

I doubt they can copyright individual last names.


It's not a matter of copyright.

Look up the thing that variously gets called "Image Rights", "Publicity Rights" or "Personality Rights". It's basically the right of an individual to control how their image is used, and it's particularly applicable to celebrities and sports stars. If <sports star X> plays for <team Y> then Y will be in the position to use X's name, picture and so on to promote their team. But that name and picture only has value because X is good at sports, so this corner of law holds that X deserves some of the proceeds of that promotion.

IIRC in the case of the NFL, it's at least in the past been the case that the League requires that all players broker their image rights through the League - I seem to recall some fuss about players' names appearing or not appearing in Madden games and so on. So no, they can't "copyright" the name "Kirk Cousins", but that name has specific marketing value associated with the real-life player, and if you use it in your PnP game then you're making use of that value that Mr. Cousins has created through hard work and training and so on without compensating him. Or the NFL, who are more likely to be upset about it and sue you. You could probably call a soldier in your Sci-Fi combat game "Kirk Cousins", but if you use the name in an American Football game then it's obviously leaning on the fame of that real-life player.

Just call the player "Church Brothers" and be done with it. ;-)
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George Nebesnik
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While I am not a lawyer, two court cases have been ruled in your favor. In 2006 a judge ruled the use of MLB players names and stats are public domain. Then in 2009 a judge ruled that the use of NFL players names and stats are protected by the first amendment. The MLB and the NFL were ruled that names of players and stats CANNOT be copyrighted.

Since I run a sports sim board game company, I talked to a lawyer friend of mine. He said technically those court cases were about fantasy sports, so it doesn't give blanket coverage to everything else.

With that being said I personally know of two companies that used to have license rights and they didn't renew them.

If you also want to stay in the board game universe, there are dozens of board game companies that use players names.
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I'd check with the Trademarks office to see if the names are Trademarked. That is where you are most likely to get into trouble.
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Re: Can I use NFL player names in a free print and play
So parody names then? (Still think it's dumb since I'm not making money.)


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Jack Dillon
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If you can convince the NFL you game would up their viewership they just might let you do it.


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Who? Me?
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You can do anything you want until you get a cease and desist letter
Needless to say, I am not a lawyer cool
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Toenail21 wrote:
So parody names then?

Sort of similar to what Hermann Luttmann did with his High and Tight baseball card game.
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(Standard "I'm not a lawyer" introduction)

While I think there is room for a legal argument in your favor, I would suggest in this case to not risk it. I've also heard the NFL is pretty protective of their content, and I think there is also room for them to make a legal argument.

As a PnP game, you probably wouldn't be able to fight through the courts, or settle with the NFL, so the most likely result would be taking down the game. I think the PnP community would rather try the game without actual names, than see it blocked and not try it at all. Generic names also make the game more universal (not needing a Madden mid-season update), and PnP players frequently make their own mods anyway.
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Intellectual Property rights aren't about whether you're making money. It's whether there is a commercial interest you may be subverting whether you are making money or not.

For a slightly different (and more clear) example, if you put out a free Star Wars game, Disney would have legal obligation to defend their trademark or risk losing it. Trademarks only last as long as they're actively defended. That's why Tivo fought so hard against people on TV using their brand name as a verb and Kimberly-Clark fights so hard to have people say "facial tissue" unless they're specifically talking about Kleenex brand facial tissue.

Additionally, it could be argued that your free game is using their IP and taking revenue away from their sanctioned games. People aren't buying Star Wars: Attack of the Tribbles! ( ) because you're giving away a similar game free. It may not be a strong argument in your case, but it's there.
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George Nebesnik
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There are literally dozens of sports board game companies that use real players without any licensing. One of them Strat-O-Matic is housed right in the NFLs home offices back yard.

The two big dogs in the sports gaming universe APBA and Strat have been around for decades and have zero legal issues. Both companies still produce card sets today using real players names and both companies even have real life players who play their games. You will be fine.
 
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