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SPJ joins amicus brief regarding photos of college athletes



March 10, 2016

Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President, 804-873-1893, pfletcher.spj@gmail.com
Maggie LaMar, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-361-4134, mlamar@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS— The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief in a “right of publicity” lawsuit involving the use of names and likenesses of college athletes.

SPJ joins the brief with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other media organizations in the case of Maloney v. T3Media. The brief was filed in support for T3Media under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute.

T3Media operated an online photo library containing thousands of photos of National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes and sporting events, allowing members of the public to purchase non-exclusive licenses of the photos. This allowed them to download copies of the photos for their personal use.

NCAA athletes who appeared in the photos sued the company in California. Their argument is that the display and licensing of the photos violated their “right of publicity,” which allows individuals to control the commercial use of their name and likeness. The trial court dismissed the case, but did not address any First Amendment issues. It is now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but the groups are urging the court to uphold the district court’s ruling.

The amicus brief argues that California’s publicity statute is a content-based restriction on speech and must be interpreted narrowly so that it does not interfere with expressive conduct or the media’s ability to report the news.

“SPJ fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press,” said SPJ National President Paul Fletcher. “If courts allow individuals to exercise unbridled control over the use of their images, the right of publicity will be transformed into a right of censorship.”

The fact that T3Media may earn a profit from licensing the photos in the NCAA photo library does not transform the images into commercial speech, the brief states. Speech does not lose its First Amendment protection because money is spent to project it, or because it is carried in a form that is “sold” for profit. There is no reason to believe that the photographs constitute an advertisement, nor any indication that the images refer to a consumer product.

“If that were true, books, newspapers and magazines that are published and sold for profit would not be allowed to run individuals’ photos,” Fletcher added.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of press. In its role as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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