Can you use an athlete’s last name in a design for a t-shirt and legally sell it without his permission?

UPDATED: Jul 22, 2010

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Can you use an athlete’s last name in a design for a t-shirt and legally sell it without his permission?

I have some shirt designs that I am putting together, and some use the last names of famous athletes; not full names; just last names. I’d like to be able to sell these designs on-line, and in retail stores. I also have digital sketches of athletes that I would like to put on shirts as well. Is it legal to sell these shirts? Do I need some sort of disclaimer on the shirts?

Asked on July 22, 2010 under Business Law, Florida


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, it's not legal, on several grounds:

1) People, whether famous athletes or not, have a right to control the use of their own likenesses or images. You can't use or profit by another's image without their consent.

2) If they're famous, they may also have trademarked some aspect of their image, name, etc. If so, you'd be violating trademark to do this.

3) If they have contracts with sponsors, etc. and you use their names and images without permission, those other companies may have grounds to sue you for interference with their rights.

Athletes often get rich because they control their image and others have to pay for  the rights to use it. There is no using their images, names, etc. without their permission.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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