Five Hall of Famers sue NFL Films

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Earlier this month, Curley Culp made it to the Hall of Fame.  He’s now suing NFL Films.

A total of ten former players have sued the league’s in-house movie-making arm for the allegedly uncompensated use of images in NFL Films products.  They each have decided to “opt out” of a settlement reached in litigation originally filed by Fred Dryer.

The plaintiffs are Culp, John Riggins, Ron Yary, Dave Casper, Tom Mack, Phil Villapiano, Willie Buchanon, Joe Kapp, Mike Bass, and Roman Gabriel.  Each man originally supported the Dryer case until learning of the details of the settlement.

“Less than half of the NFL players played long enough to vest, typically forced from the game because of injury,” Culp said.  “If we are successful in this case, many of these players will finally see some financial benefit in their retirement.”

“This situation is particularly galling for the retired NFL player who never made more than $20,000 a year, now counting his pennies to pay for his medication, while his image is on the TV screen, promoting a $10 billion organization,” Kapp said. “I believe NFL Films has a legal — and a moral — obligation to pay retired players a fair share of the value the league makes from using our identities.”

Whether there’s a moral obligation is debatable.  Whether a legal obligation will be determined in a New Jersey court of law.

54 responses to “Five Hall of Famers sue NFL Films

  1. Doesn’t the footage of an NFL game played in an NFL uniform for an NFL team belong to the NFL?

    Do the former players have any legal grounds to stand on here?

  2. If you didn’t want to be in NFL Films maybe you shouldn’t have played in the NFL?

    Maybe your union should have negotiated royalties like movie screen actors do.

  3. Sorry I don’t see it. I feel bad for those older players who made so little and are struggling but that doesn’t mean they are entitled to a cut every time their image is shown. They are public figures.

  4. I would be surprised if the players didn’t sign over these rights when they signed their contracts.

  5. Funny how he waited until AFTER the HOF announcements and inductions to do this. It’s like archival documentary footage that is owned by the NFL and the players are the employees. They should get nothing more than what they already have.

  6. “Do the former players have any legal grounds to stand on here?”

    That is actually a good question. I’m now interested in how this plays out as they do technically have a good argument.

  7. Everybody’s looking to make a quick buck these days. sue sue sue. The reason why we pay such high insurance premiums.

  8. I am getting a little tired of the bitter old guys trying to get back at the NFL because the league has become such a lucrative venture. Nobody forced these guys to play in the NFL and yet they feel somehow they are “owed” something. I used to work for a company that is now worth 5 billion dollars, do they owe me something??? Of course not. Ridiculous.

  9. When the player is identified in the film and his image is used to promote product then yes, the NFL owes these players.

  10. Sounds like the former players are trying to get somebody to pay their medical bills. If they wanted better retirement and medical plans, they should have worked for an organization other than the NFL. I don’t remember hearing any of these complaints when they were playing, and nobody put a gun to their head forcing them to play.

  11. I agree the NFL should feel morally obligated to help older players…but I highly doubt they have a legal responsibility to do so.

  12. Even I think that players from the old NFL were not paid as much as the actual ones, I think that everyone wants to sue the NFL for any reason to get son money. Why can’t players save some money from what they earned? 20k may not be a lot of money today, but 40-50 years ago it was a nice amount. This is a success and marketing issue… I can’t ask a former employer for a “compensation” for what I did for them 20 years ago even if that employer is now paying millions to new employees.

    By the way, the NFL would avoid all of these problems by simply asking those old players a written authorization for using their images AND include in actual players’ contracts the authorization to use the player’s image today and in the future.

  13. Whether these guys have a valid legal claim or not, the NFL needs to step up and help out the old-timers who laid the foundation for this league. It’s the right thing to do.

  14. He hit it on the head when he said ”
    and a moral — obligation to pay retired players a fair share of the value the league makes from using our identities.””

    This is a no brainer, these guys laid down the foundation for what the NFL is today. I am sure a nice compensation plan plus a medical plan could be arranged. The fact that this is in the media an not already taken care of is typical of the Roger G era though.

  15. The NFL already agreed that they owe them money, these guys don’t agree with the way the settlement was structured.

    It’s interesting that so many people think that the shield and uniform have more rights then the person inside it. Telling.

  16. Hey Curley, you think you’re a big deal now? So you were born in the wrong era, time to get over that and move on. Your era was great football, dont drop yourself to the level of some of the idiots of today. You prided yourself on how you all played for the love of the game. Every lawsuit makes that a bunch of bull. Just like every other athlete except its the NFL’s fault you played in the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. Go away.

  17. Instead of suing, they should just get a job at the NFLN, or ESPN. They’ll hire anyone to be a NFL analyst. Plus, they won’t even have to do things like fact check, or make informed opinions. Easy money!

    Boom. Problem solved.

  18. There’s always some new way these pathetic veterans are trying to eek out a few bucks from the NFL.


    Sorry, guys, you did not play in an era where there was any money on the line. Same thing is true of the early tennis players and early baseball players and early badminton players. You were just born too early.

    Stop trying to make a claim for anything and everything you can just to get a few bucks.

    And, no, the current NFL is not what it is today because of you! It is what it is because of the current players.

  19. Seeing those names reminds me of the game I used to follow closely: pre-taunting and celebrating every tackle, or reception. That’s my curmudgeonly comment. No dreadlocks on Butkus or Nitschke (well, it would have been really tough to grow ’em on those two, especially Ray’s barren top-ography).

  20. I suppose I can understand the reluctance of NFL Films to help the players. After all, what possible connection would NFL Films feel to them? To me, the real MORAL obligation to help the forefathers of the game should rightly be on the CURRENT millionaire players who are too ignorant and self-centered to know or CARE about the past giants on whose shoulders they now stand, while they cover themselves in bling, and park two Bentleys and a Corvette in their mansion’s driveway…DISGRACEFUL

  21. They sure the hell do have a moral obligation, young fans would have no idea about the history of the team AND the league w/o these HOF players…give them some money, would rather see them get some then Jerry Jones and his over priced stadium….

  22. They pissed away all that money that was given to them and now want more unearned money! It’s your own fault you blew through millions and now expect a handout? Really? You know the game, you played the game and as stated above once your in the NFL and play for the NFL , the jersey and all the games on TV are owned by the NFL.

  23. This copyrighted broadcast is the property of the Curley Culp. Any rebroadcast or reproduction without the consent of the Curley Culp is strictly prohibited.”

    Doesn’t sound right.

  24. These retired players come off as greedy, and unaccountable….same thing I would accuse the very people they’re suing. Either way neither side looks good , nor sympathetic. Now I guess NFL films will be eliminated huh? #whatajoke#

  25. Short answer: the players probably have pretty strong legal grounds. But it depends on the language in the contracts the players signed all those years ago.

    First things first: You DO NOT give up the rights to your name and likeness merely via your employment. You have to explicitly sign those away.

    Doesn’t the footage of an NFL game played in an NFL uniform for an NFL team belong to the NFL?

    Yes and no. Venue, trademarks, and logos are all irrelevant. The film itself is covered by copyright, which belongs exclusively to the person who does the filming. That person, either employed or contracted by the NFL, signs over copyright to the league as a condition of employment. All standard stuff, and the copyright on the film is then owned by the league.

    But that doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want with it. They can use it for editorial purposes with no limitations (think: news). They cannot use the name or likeness of someone for commercial or promotional purposes without their consent. And all of the league’s use of the NFL Films library would be considered commercial and promotional. The former players’ contracts are what govern their consent. So the devil is then in the details.

    Was there a time frame involved; did their consent only last as long as the contract they signed? Were there limitations on use, or was the language in the contract not broad enough to cover all of the ways in which the footage has come to be used? If so, the league would do well to settle with them.

    Or if it’s merely the players in old age re-thinking the value of what they signed away in their youth, well… that doesn’t bode well for them.

  26. Why do these old player come back 40 years later and want something? Why didn’t they bring this up a long time ago?

  27. The NFL never got sued like this under Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue. It’s the arrogance and “Dictator” personality of Roger Goodell that is bringing all this negative attention to the NFL. Geaux Saints!

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