29.08.12

Athletes And The Preservation Of Their Gains

Peter Goldson
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Athletes And The Preservation Of Their Gains

"Life is simply a cricket match, with temptation as the bowler" – Anonymous

The continued success of Jamaican athletes at the Olympic Games and other international sports competitions is certain to have one important consequence: the growth and development of law relating to sports and sportsmen.

Jamaican athletes (especially the highly successful ones) will have to become acquainted with various aspects of law which directly affect them and their pockets.

It is useful to begin with a discussion of image rights and trademarks. Celebrity sells goods and services and athletes may find that suppliers of goods and services are increasingly inclined to utilize the image, likeness, and name of the athlete in association with goods and services. The athletes and their managers will have to be vigilant to ensure that the image of the athlete is used only with their permission and pursuant to satisfactory contractual arrangements.

There is a simple but important truth about intellectual property rights. If you do not use them (i.e. protect them from misuse by third parties), you will lose them.

Protection of image rights can be strengthened by the registration of trade marks which consist of the athlete's name, likeness and the symbols and actions associated with the athlete. Notably, however, registration of these trade marks in Jamaica alone are unlikely to be satisfactory – trade mark registration should also be effected in those countries which represent the main markets of the athlete's promotional and endorsement activities. In this era of instant global communications, the challenge which is likely to confront the athlete is "what country can I afford to avoid?"

All top athletes dream of signing multi-million dollar endorsement deals. However, the news that a major apparel or shoe manufacturer has signed an endorsement deal with a top athlete is the tip of the iceberg as most of the story remains underwater. The news often belies the intense negotiations which may take place between the company and the advisors of the top athlete. Of course, athletes are well-advised to look beyond and beneath the dollar figure being offered. The athlete could risk losing much of what he thinks he has if he does not carefully examine and consider the details of the agreement, such as what actions might lead to his forfeit use of his entitlement under the contract or how his ability to sign with other companies might be affected. Like many things in life, the devil is in the details.