If you’ve ever thought about becoming a sports agent, you’ll want to pay attention to this website. It’s the home of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Copyright Office, which combine to form the United States Copyright Union (UCOU), and it was designed to give sports agents and businesses a single source for legal and regulatory guidance.
The union is at the forefront of addressing the complex issues surrounding the digital revolution and how it affects talent representation.
Sports fans may remember the 2016 election of then-Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Amidst a contentious confirmation battle, Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by one of his previous students, Christine Blasey Ford. The California professor came forward with her allegations during the hearings and was subsequently referred to as “Dr. Christine Blasey Ford” by politicians on both sides of the aisle. She testified that Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to take off her clothes during a drunken party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denied the allegations, and his nomination was eventually confirmed by the Senate by a margin of fifty-four to forty-seven.
While the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, the legal and regulatory guidance it provides is directly applicable to other courts around the country. In the last year alone, the union has issued more than eighty legal opinions and taken more than eighty positions on various regulatory filings. It has also created a database that can be accessed by sports agents and law firms, which enables them to research the most up-to-date legal and policy developments affecting their industry.
The Rising Legal Concerns For Sports Agents
The union’s newest opinion focuses on the unique concerns faced by sports agents. It addresses the obligations that arise from the representation of pro athletes, including the need to register as a lobbyist, restriction on the use of non-union employees, and proof of insurance.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was controversial not only because of his alleged criminal behavior, but also because he was a staunch proponent of copyright law. A federal law that’s been around for nearly a century, copyright protects the original authors and creators of valuable creative works, such as paintings, novels, and films. The law allows the exclusive rights holder to control how their work is used, from distribution to publicity.
On the subject of publicity rights, the union’s guidance is quite clear: “In the vast majority of cases, agents have an obligation to seek publicity rights for their clients. This obligation encompasses a duty to negotiate the terms of any advertising or endorsement arrangement and requires agents to secure permission before using a client’s name in endorsements or advertisements.”
It continues: “Whether an agent’s involvement in an advertisement or endorsement is sufficiently substantial to require the agent’s permission depends on the type of relationship the parties have. For example, if an agent represents an athletic team, tournament, or league in the marketing of an athletic event (e.g., the Superbowl or the World Series), then the agent’s involvement in the advertisement or endorsement may be so substantial as to require the agent’s permission.”
Sports Fans Can Also Play A Role In The Development Of Sports Law
It’s been a remarkable year for legal opinions issued by the union. In October, it entered into a joint opinion with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding illegal sports betting. Then, in December, it weighed in on the rights of fantasy sports players. And, just this month, it addressed the obligations of sports agents under the Dodd-Frank Act, which was signed into law in 2010 and amended the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
The union’s most recent guidance focuses on the challenges that come with operating a business in today’s society. In it, it addresses whether licensed professionals, such as attorneys, accountants, and agents, must comply with the myriad of legal and regulatory requirements that exist in today’s complex business environment.
The opinion cites the need to protect consumers and ensure compliance with the law as the primary reason for its existence, but it also recognizes that businesses must operate lawfully to ensure they are not faced with unnecessary legal hassles. In some instances, businesses may not be aware of the requirements imposed by law, and the union’s legal opinions aim to provide clarity on how to comply with these laws.
How Does Sports Law Affect My Business?
The attorneys at the Cohen Kase Law Firm, P.C. have more than forty years of combined legal experience and represent a wide array of clients in the areas of criminal law, business law, and real estate. Among the matters we’ve taken on are copyright litigation, trademark litigation, and sports law. In the last year, we’ve begun to see more and more inquiries from our non-client base regarding sports law and the complexities it presents.
Most notably, we’ve started to see a significant uptick in the number of clients seeking assistance with eventing. As an agent and broker for the NFL, I frequently receive questions from my clients about the various regulations that surround this particular hobby. Just this week, I helped a prominent professional golfer negotiate the rights to her YouTube profile, which she used to offer tips and advice on how to improve one’s game. The DOJ registration for that particular case was initially filed in 2017, but in light of the developing legal and policy landscape surrounding digital media, it was decided that a review was warranted.
For decades, the DOJ and the Copyright Office have been the two primary regulators of intellectual property and copyright law in the United States. In this past year, the two agencies have issued more opinions and taken more positions than they have in previous years, and this trend will likely continue as the country’s most influential think tank and federal regulatory body prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2021.