Lawsuit Claims the Heisman Trophy Can't Be Displayed Online Without Consent

The Heisman Trophy -Getty - H 2018
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Heisman Trophy Trust, which celebrates the greatest college player quarterback or running back each year, has filed a lawsuit against three podcasters who operate the HeismanWatch website. According to the complaint, the Heisman Trophy is one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports and the defendants are violating intellectual property through their endeavors.

The lawsuit may be taking a page from the playbook of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which once sued over and got the site's name changed to Awards Daily.

But this suit isn't merely about use of the trademark "Heisman" for the website, the podcast and associated social media accounts.

The trophy itself is an original sculptural work entitled to copyright protection, asserts the plaintiff, which has licensing relationships with ESPN and the Collegiate Licensing Company, a division of IMG.

"As owners of the HEISMAN Copyright, the Trust has the exclusive right to (1) reproduce images of the Heisman Trophy® award, (2) publicly display the Heisman Trophy® award; and 3) distribute copies of the Heisman Trophy® award pursuant to Section 106 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106," states the complaint. "Upon information and belief, Defendants have for years willfully copied, displayed and distributed copies of the Heisman Trophy® award on a consistent and systematic basis, without the Trust’s authorization or consent... Defendants past and continuing copying, transmitting, displaying and distribution of images of the Heisman Trophy® award constitutes a willful, deliberate and ongoing infringement of the Trust’s copyrights, causing irreparable harm and damage to the Trust."

Here's the full complaint.

Of course, there's a fair use defense. The defendants weren't immediately available to respond.