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NI’s sporting stadia: the law of the land

Can images and films of sporting stadia be sold and published, or used in advertising and marketing materials without risk of infringement?

In light of the ongoing development of local sporting stadia, as well as the steady flow of high-profile sporting events coming to NI, in this month’s column sports lawyer Jonny Madill explains to Geoff Wilson some of the key issues to consider for advertisers and marketers, stadium designers and owners, sponsors, photographers and film-makers.
Even though sporting venues (just like any other buildings) are protected by copyright in the UK, selling and publishing photographs and films of venues (taken either from a public place, or from private property where the owner had no objection) is not an infringement of copyright. Making a graphic representation of a stadium such as a drawing or a painting, or by making a broadcast of a visual representation of it, is also permitted. Note, however, that filming inside venues will most likely require the owner’s permission, and will probably be prohibited under the terms of entry anyway.

One way for stadium designers and owners to protect the brand value of a venue and prevent third parties from profiting from their work (e.g. via unauthorised merchandising), is by registering the stadium (both its name and its appearance) as a trade mark. The stadium will, however, need to have a very distinctive shape or design for the image of the stadium to be successfully registered. Whether the architect or designer of a stadium, or the organisation funding the project or owning the building has the right to register the mark should ultimately be agreed when drawing up the contract for the stadium design.

Although there have been no cases of this in the UK, anyone involved in making images or films which feature sporting venues should proceed with caution, as this could potentially amount to a representation to the public that their image or film is associated with or endorsed by the venue owner or designer, which could amount to “passing off”.
If a photograph is to be used commercially (e.g. for advertising or marketing purposes), obtaining a property release might be necessary. UK advertising law says that marketers should obtain written permission before portraying members of the public or their identifiable possessions. Although any assessment would be on a case-by-case basis, it is possible that images of sporting stadia could be construed as falling into this category.
Jonny Madill is a sports lawyer at Sheridans, and advises sports clients including clubs, governing bodies, leagues, associations, agencies, athletes, sports tech companies and broadcasters. He specialises in digital sport as well as commercial, technology, regulatory, governance, dispute resolution and broadcasting issues in the sports sector. You can contact Jonny at jmadill@sheridans.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at @jonnymadill89.

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