Apparently there is some kind of big football game upon us. Not really caring for the sport myself and wanting to stay out of trouble, I won’t actually say the name of the game or the teams involved. What’s that? You didn’t know about the implications of using the NFL’s registered trademarks without their permission?
Actually, I can write freely about the fact that the Arizona Cardinals will be playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, FL on Sunday, February 1 (and I’ll actually be watching, if only for the halftime show featuring Bruce Springsteen). Your publications and stations can broadcast or write too, provided you take care to limit use of the terms to situations that fall within the concept of "nominative fair use". That generally requires three things:
- You must use the actual trademarked term (i.e., "Super Bowl", "Super Sunday", "NFL" or team names) to identify what your’e talking or writing about
- You only use the trademarked term as necessary for identification purposes and do not engage in gratutious use
- You do not use the trademarked term to suggest any sort of sponsorship or endorsement connection.
So, clearly, you can mention the Super Bowl and team names without Goodell’s goons blitzing you. The most obvious permitted use is in the context of a legitimate news story. But other discussion within the confines of (1), (2), and (3) above is OK as well. Morning show DJs can discuss who they think will win the game — but they can’t create a station contest or viewing party around the game that uses any of the NFL’s trademarked terms. You should also take care to review advertising bought in your papers or on your station to make sure that the advertisers aren’t running afoul of these rules either.
The NFL takes this very seriously and does not hesitate to protect their trademark rights, as many stations find out each year (it is, after all, referred to by many as the "No Fun League"). So don’t get a flag thrown on you for stepping out of bounds on this one. Trademark infringement will cost you a lot more than just 15 yards…
(By the way, what you’ve just read is true for pretty much every major sporting event — such as "March Madness" and the World Series — so, rather than coming back here in March or October, just substitute a new, equally corny sports analogy of your own and keep the legal lessons in mind. Try it:
"So don’t get a technical foul called on you for stepping on the baseline. Trademark infringement will cost you a lot more than just 2 free throws and possession…"
"So don’t balk on this one. Trademark infringement will cost you a lot more than just a free base.")