Although copyright actions arise in many different fields, we don’t typically associate copyright with sports. Indeed, trademarks are most often used to protect sports logos and catchphrases. However, this week in the basketball world, Toronto Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard filed an action in the US District Court for the Southern District of California alleging that Nike fraudulently copyrighted a logo that he (allegedly) designed. The subject logo shown here is an outline of Leonard’s hand with the letters K and L designed therein along with the number 2 (a number that he has worn throughout most of his career).

The suit claims, amongst other things, that as part of an endorsement deal with Nike, Leonard allowed Nike to use, on certain merchandise and in limited circumstances, the subject logo. However, unbeknownst to him, Nike filed for a copyright registration for the logo in 2017, claiming authorship from back in 2014. Since then, Leonard filed for a number of trademark applications and received at least one registration for the word “KL2”. Although earlier this year Leonard asked Nike to rescind its copyrights to the logo, Nike responded that it owns the property rights and instead asked Leonard to cease his use.

Although the exact details and facts of this unfortunate situation have yet to play out, the takeaway from the above is clear: there should be a clear agreement between parties licensing copyrighted materials. Further, it may be a good idea in certain circumstances to apply for both a copyright registration for an artistic work, and concurrently file a trademark application to protect the work (in this case, the logo).  Such clearer understandings will lead to fewer disputes down the road and can help cement one’s rights at the outset of the creation/invention of the work.

In the meantime, Go Raptors!

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