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Welcome back to the “Spotlight”! With Thanksgiving just around the corner (brace yourself, midsection), I wanted to pause to take a moment to reflect on all that for which I have to be thankful. Certainly my family, health and employment to name a few. But, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank my outstanding colleagues for their support in getting the “Spotlight” off the ground in its inaugural year. I literally could not have done it without you. In observance of Thanksgiving, I will be skipping next week’s edition but back at it (and presumably a little huskier) for the first week of December. In the meantime, grab a plate and allow me to serve you up a heaping portion of knowledge in this week’s “Spotlight.”

    • In a follow-up to the “Spotlight” blog post from just two weeks ago (don’t you love when that happens?) regarding director Quentin Tarantino’s sale of “Pulp Fiction” related NFTs, Hollywood film studio Miramax has sued Tarantino alleging that its rights are being infringed, notwithstanding Tarantino’s reserved rights in the film property.  In other news, Quentin Tarantino probably will not soon be making films with a certain Hollywood film studio: Miramax.
    • In a follow-up to the “Spotlight” blog post from just three weeks ago (I’ve now likely lost my entire audience other than my wife and my parents), the Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby team have settled their lawsuit against the Cleveland Guardians Major League Baseball team. Financial details of the settlement are undisclosed, but both organizations will continue using the Cleveland Guardians name while not winning World Series championships. I’d say “there goes the Cleveland audience,” but neither my wife nor my parents are from Cleveland.
    • For the low price of $300 (roughly the cost of a beer and hot dog at a New York professional sports stadium/arena), you can own a piece of the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers. But before you jump at the thought of making money off the cheeseheads, you ought to read the fine print.

What a difference just a few months makes. The weather turns from oppressively hot to cool and crisp. The leaves turn from a healthy bright green to all manners of reds, yellows and browns as they cling precariously to the trees before floating down to the ground. And the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) drafts a new constitution that actually acknowledges a student-athlete may commercially market his/her/their own name, image and likeness.  That would have been unthinkable earlier this year, that is, until the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in NCAA v. Alston that non-cash education-related benefits (and, by extension name, image and likeness restrictions) violated antitrust laws. Indeed, Justice Neil Gorsuch might as well have been the author of this draft NCAA Constitution as his guidance in writing for the Court, referenced exactly what the NCAA is apparently deciding to do (albeit by necessity) – delegating rulemaking authority to its member Conferences and Universities. Of course, delegation is in and of itself a coup for the public, as few good things come to mind in recent history that the NCAA actually did itself. This is all to say that NIL is not going anywhere any time soon.

Also not going anywhere anytime soon? The “Spotlight” and yours truly. So for now, let’s check in on what else you should be in the know on this week:

Part of what I love about having a Sports Law practice is exactly what makes it difficult to cram everything I want to discuss into each week’s installment of the "Spotlight." No, it’s not that athletic prowess is not required. Rather, my work is wildly diverse, as it's comprised of many constituent bodies of law. By focusing on just one legal issue, a heap of thought-provoking, topical stories are given short shrift. That is why, to make the Spotlight a little more well-rounded (incidentally, “well-rounded” is exactly why I lacked athletic prowess in my early years), I have decided to retire the “Right of Publicity” section in favor of a broad “Sports” category.  This will enable me to cover more ground, and perhaps allow me to sleep at night (my kids have other ideas). With that explanation out of the way, let’s take this souped-up knowledge machine for a spin:

    • With this week’s $8 billion acquisition of sports drink brand BodyArmor, Coca-Cola not only shored up its sports beverage portfolio (which already includes Powerade), but also boosted the portfolios of many stars who invested in the brand. Among them, was the late Kobe Bryant, whose estate reportedly netted a whopping $400 million.
    • Trailblazing a path for those who come after him is 17-year-old basketball phenom Mikey Williams who has linked up with athletic apparel brand Puma, becoming the first American high schooler to land a global endorsement deal.  From the sound of it, his back to school clothes shopping for his senior year of high school will be all taken care of.
    • Electronic dance music mega-group Swedish House Mafia forges a partnership with Swedish household furniture retailer IKEA. Exact compensation details of the deal are undisclosed, but it is rumored (by me) that a portion of it will be paid in meatballs and difficult-to-assemble furniture.
    • Quentin Tarantino’s name is synonymous with film storytelling from the end, but it may soon be with NFT monetization of “never before seen” clips, repurposing uncut scenes from Pulp Fiction. A Royale with Cheese NFT may soon follow.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: Fresh off of my paternity leave in which feeding and putting to sleep my baby was my charge, I have the distinct privilege of resuming my commentary portion of the Spotlight. With any luck, there will be even more feeding (knowledge) and minimal sleep induction. Given the sugar rush that awaits many of us this weekend – whether it be from “quality assurance” testing a few pieces of candy from our own trick or treat bowls or being the lucky recipient of confectionary cast-offs from our children’s Halloween haul (come to me, candy corn) – that should not be a tall task. More likely to be a tall task is Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team, newly named (at least for the time being) the Cleveland Guardians defending itself from a trademark infringement claim from an earlier established roller derby team named the Cleveland Guardians. But we will be watching closely as this David v. Goliath story unfolds. And as this installment of the Spotlight continues to unfold, here’s a look at a number of the other stories going bump in the night this Halloween week:

    •  Billie Eilish is the latest celebrity to sniff out an opportunity to leverage her personal brand to make a foray into beauty products, partnering with Parlux on a new vegan and cruelty (bad guy?)-free fragrance.
    • Molten, a Boston-based media rights management startup completes a wicked awesome seed financing round with the backing of several prominent names in entertainment and media.
    • Parents: Hide your credit cards. Hasbro becomes the latest entry into the metaverse, debuting Power Rangers NFTs. 
    • Cher filed a lawsuit against her late musical partner and ex-husband Sonny Bono’s widow over the rights to many of their cherished Sonny & Cher songs. She asked the court to block the trust which handles Sonny’s estate, the Bono Collection Trust, from terminating her rights that granted her 50 percent of the royalties under their divorce settlement. Under the Copyright Act, artists can cancel distributions of their copyrights and reclaim them after 35 years. This provision has been in the spotlight given the recent heated disputes involving Marvel and Disney. Will this case be monumental in shedding light on a gloomy area of copyright law that intersects family law? Let’s see if the “Beat Goes On” for Cher.
    • Fast food and A-list-celebrities – is there any combo more alluring? Over the years, an increasing amount of major global food names have partnered with top talent to entice the public to eat at their establishment. McDonalds has recruited Travis Scott, Burger King has Nelly, Taco Bell has Lil Nas X, and most recently Megan Thee Stallion has signed a new deal with Popeyes. Her new business venture includes multiple franchise locations, a six-figure donation to Houston Acts of Kindness, her own personal branded Popeyes hot sauce, and an exclusive merch drop including bikinis, shirts, tumblers, and even plush dog toys shaped like chicken tenders. What other mouthwatering partnerships can we expect to see next?

    • NIL (name, image, likeness) continues to captivate headlines as athletes forge ahead with profit-churning ventures while still in school thanks to the NCAA’s new rules. Sedona Prince of the Oregon Ducks is a rock star as she became a sole proprietor and is building her own empire, brand along with merchandises. She has been dubbed as the official poster child for NIL, a rightfully earned title with more than 246 thousand followers on Instagram and a staggering 2.8 million on Tik Tok. Can we expect to see a lot more of these rising student athlete prodigies?
    • There has been a flurry of activities of celebrities investing in holistic wellness and health initiatives. LeBron James invests in smart home gym company Tonal. Ashton Kutcher invests in cultivated meat company MeaTech 3D to support the meat alternatives movement. Steven Van Zandt launches a wellness focused cannabis product line. Cody Rigsby partners with Chobani to promote a limited edition complete shake. As emerging health and fitness trends keep evolving, we can probably expect to see celebrities continue to promote the latest and greatest of wellness.

    • Tina Turner signed the rights of her iconic music catalogue spanning 60 years, including her name, image and likeness to a German music company, BMG. While Warner Music record label still manages her record, is this a sign of things to come for music companies who are looking to take hit makers under their wings and broaden music artists' digital reach?

    • Is NIL (name, image, likeness) picking up at warp speed? There may be a potential endorsement deal brewing between Puma and Mikey Williams, a high school basketball player who has a huge social media presence. Will we see continue to see teen athletes partnering with brands as part of their potential pro sports journey?

    • What will the “Endgame” be for the lawsuit between Walt Disney Company and former Marvel comic book creators? In the spring of this year, a host of famed artists and illustrators of Marvel characters such as Iron Man, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon and Thor, has filed notices of copyright termination citing a provision of copyright law that grants full rights back to the authors of the work after a set period of time. Disney, who owns Marvel Entertainment, responded with a defense of “made-for-hire” workers and lawsuits seeking to invalidate the notices. So, could Disney potentially lose full ownership of the characters?
    • Does Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act protect social media sites such as Facebook from liability over misuse of user content? Maybe not so in the case of Karen Hepp vs. Facebook, which involves an unauthorized use of a Philadelphia Fox 29 co-anchor Karen Hepp’s photo on Facebook’s dating site. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court revived the case, ruling that Section 230 does not shield Facebook from intellectual-property related claims, such as right of publicity.
    • In a memorandum issued on Wednesday to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional directors and officials, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo expressed her view that college athletes have statutory rights similar to employee rights recognized under the NLRB. Although this isn’t officially converting college athletes into employees of their schools, is this a sign of things to come?
    • There is that sweet sound of music as Universal Music Group’s IPO debuted as the largest in the history of the music business, with the listing on Euronext Amsterdam valuing the company at more than $53 billion. The stock’s closing share price was €25.10 – 36 percent above its initial reference price of €18.50. This IPO marks a major turning point for the industry, signaling the strong appetite for music content, also with the rise and sustained popularity of streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
    • Will brands continue to widen their scope and collaborate more and more with contemporary artists and designers (in addition to celebrities and star athletes) to transform products into art masterpieces? Such is the case with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), a luxury goods conglomerate, which has an abundance of cultural infrastructure in place to support these partnerships. LVMH’s luxury Swiss watchmaker Hublot is partnering with a number of artists such as Brazilian artist Romero Britto, and writer and art world star Takashi Murakami to create new takes on the watch brand’s Classic Fusion line.
    • NFTs once again dominate the headlines this week with owners of KB24 (Kobe Bryant’s former website) launching Kobe-inspired art collectibles as NFTs for a charitable cause and receiving more than 7,000 reservations for the auction already; Tiger Woods releasing an NFT collection of his digital signature and other memorabilia through Autograph (company co-founded by Tom Brady); and Jay-Z embroiled in a legal battle with Damon Dash over NFTs.

    • Esteemed filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s decision to leave his 19-year-long relationship with Warner Bros. for Universal to make his next film (about Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of an atomic bomb) continues to highlight the strife between studios and talent. Nolan and Warner Bros. had been clashing over ongoing issues, including disagreements over his contract, his entire 2021 slate being released simultaneously on HBO Max during the height of the pandemic, and release plans for “Tenet.”
    • The intersection of music and sports may have reached a fever pitch: Drake will be curating music for 10 of the Monday Night Football games, producing what CEO of Trillernet Mahi de Silva calls “four-quadrant” entertainment (starting with last Monday’s Baltimore Ravens-Las Vegas Raiders game), which aims to capture a wider, and sometimes overlapping fan base, to ultimately create a cultural moment that’s larger than life.
    • Apple has announced it has created a new process that can properly identify rights holders of the music used in DJ mixes and will be able to directly pay them.
    • NIL opportunities for college athletes continue to pick up steam. Marketing and licensing agency The Brandr Group is partnering with Altius Sports Partners to provide student athletes education around their NIL rights and group licensing opportunities in tandem with the athletic departments.

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The Sports, Arts & Entertainment group at Foster Garvey provides full service legal representation on sports, entertainment and business matters, including handling transactions related to brand management, licensing, joint ventures, venture capital, private equity, technology, the Internet and new media.
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