Is the NFL Committing Copyright Infringement?

Over the course of the past week, several photographers brought a lawsuit against the NFL, Replay Photos, Getty Images and the Associated Press for copyright infringement. The photographers involved in the lawsuit allege that the companies used their intellectual property without obtaining proper licenses and permissions. According to the article, the photographers are suing for damages for copyright infringement, damages for vicarious and contributory copyright infringement, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.

In his book, The Future of Ideas, Lawrence Lessig states, “Every society has resources that are free and resources that are controlled. Free resources are those available for the taking. Controlled resources are those for which the permission of someone is needed before the resource can be used.” He goes on to explain, “A resource is free if one can use it without the permission of anyone else or if the permission needed is granted neutrally.” In the case of copyright infringement brought against the NFL and the other companies listed, the photos and intellectual property in question were not free resources. They required permissions and licenses in order to be used, yet the companies still used them without obtaining these necessary permissions. The NFL, Associated Press, and Getty Images allegedly used these controlled resources with blatant disregard to the legal processes necessary to obtain permission for their use.

This creates a huge problem for creative professionals like photographers and designers, because they make a living by selling permissions and temporary licenses to use their intellectual property. Rather than working a set amount of hours each week and receiving a steady paycheck, creative professionals survive off of selling the rights to their photos, designs, etc. When companies like the NFL and the Associated Press use these items without purchasing the rights, it robs the original artist of the money they are entitled.

I believe Kant and Milton would agree with me on this. Kant suggests that the majority of people go through life without ever having a truly original thought. They spend their lives piggy-backing off of the ideas of others. He encourages people to, “Dare to know!” and, “Have the courage to use your own understanding.” I believe if Kant were to comment on the case of copyright infringement against the NFL, he would side with the photographers. If the NFL wanted to use someone else’s photos rather than creating something themselves, they should have paid for the permission to do so. If they didn’t want to pay to use someone else’s work, then they should have taken the time to go out and create the images themselves.




• (Milton)

• (Kant)

• (Lessig)


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