On Tuesday, Muhammad Ali Enterprises filed a $30 million federal lawsuit against Fox Broadcasting Company in Chicago.
The lawsuit claims Fox used Ali’s identity in a video (see below) that aired just before its broadcast of the Super Bowl in February without permission. Muhammad Ali Enterprises owns the trademark rights, copyrights, the right of publicity and all other intellectual property rights of the boxing legend.
They contend that Fox used Ali’s “name, image and likeness as the centerpiece of its three-minute promotional video” before the Super Bowl which attracted a national audience of 111 million viewers.
In the lawsuit, Muhammad Ali Enterprises explains the value of showing the video before the Super Bowl. They claim that Fox could have sold those three minutes of time just before the start of the Super Bowl to advertisers for roughly $30 million.
“Fox obtained great value by using Muhammad Ali to promote itself,” attorney Frederick J. Sperling, who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. “It should pay for what it took.”
The video in question depicts Ali throughout his career, using archival footage to show his some of his greatest achievements. The video then switches its focus to NFL legends including Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Vince Lombardi, Tom Brady and others.
The lawsuit contends that the video was done in such a way as to “define greatness and ultimately compare the NFL legends to Ali and thus to define them and the Super Bowl as ‘greatness’ too.”
They also claim the video “falsely implies” that Ali or Muhammad Ali Enterprises had endorsed Fox.
On the other side of things, Fox could potentially use the defense of nominative fair use. Nominative fair use permits use of another’s trademark to refer to the trademark owner’s actual goods and services associated with the mark.
Nominative fair use generally is permissible as long as:
1. The product or service in question is not readily identifiable without use of the trademark.
2. Only so much of the mark as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service is used — and
3. Use of the mark does not suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark owner.
Despite this, Fox will still have a legal battle ahead of them. Gotham City Esq will update this story when more facts emerge.