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OPINION: Intellectual Property in Sports Business – The Ultimate Goal

On April 26 Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark the World Intellectual Property Day Celebrations under the theme “Going for Gold: IP and Sports” (Fighting Counterfeit and Piracy: Advancing fair play).

In this digital age, sport is competing hard for the public’s attention and, in doing so, its becoming increasingly shorter, faster and more dynamic.

The need, on one hand, to respect and uphold a sport’s tradition is now being balanced with the public demand (particularly from younger audiences), on the other, for easily digested, accessible and narrative-heavy sports content, often fusing sport with music & entertainment.

The bad news for sports lovers and creators is that the idea or the concept of a sports itself will not, from an IP law perspective, be protectable or protected.

However, some steps can be taken by different stakeholders to protect their interests.

This is so because IP rights are used in the sports sector to secure and protect the value of events and products.

Sports practitioners have been able to generate enormous revenues from the exploitation of aspects of intellectual property rights via merchandising.

It follows that sports of recent have become of great commercial value through marketing, promotion, franchising, merchandising and brand building of professional sports teams, such clubs like Onduparaka , KCCA, VIPERS, Wakiso Giants, City Oilers, UCU-Canons, DMark Power, Kobs, Heathens etc, have now become more economically significant and viable and have assumed the influences associated with multi-national companies.

KCCA Football Club are the reigning Star Times Uganda Premier League
A section of Vipers fans at St Mary’s Stadium, Kitende
FUFA President Eng. Moses Magogo and other officials inspect the Onduparaka Football Club players before kick off.
Kyetume and Wakiso Giants captains with the match officials prior to kick off. Both clubs are complete brands of themselves

Sportsmen and women have also become more commercially important surpassing previously existing notions with respect to their financial worth.

Several sports have increasingly evolved like, football, tennis, basket, cricket, car-racing etc into mega international events.

They have also become more profitable domestic sports events like; Star Times premier league, The Nile Special Premier Rugby League, Lato Milk motor car Rally etc.

These professional sports teams and corporations tend to exploit and capitalize on varying intellectual property rights through merchandising, advertisement, exclusive and non-exclusive licenses, broadcast rights etc.

Also sportsmen enter into endorsement and advertisement contracts worth millions of shillings outside the pitch.

Uganda Cranes captain Denis Onyango is a big sports personality brand

Similarly, sports teams and sports organisations are able to derive commercial benefits via branding, merchandising, licensing& sponsorship.

Hence a cocktail of IP laws has been set up to offer legal protection in the bid to secure the business interests within sports.

Trademarks provide protections for marks, symbols, logos, slogans & names that distinguish the products of one undertaking from those of other undertakings and business from other businesses.

Trade marks are at the forefront of protecting any “brand” & help to protect the visual elements which the consumer is most exposed to.

The most effective means of protecting a trade mark against unauthorized use is to register the trade mark (if possible).

It should be noted that the more successful the format of the game, the more prestigious the brand. Any personal name or signature can potentially be registered as a trade mark. Fred Perry was one of the first sports personalities to register his signature as a trade mark back in 1965 in UK.

Uganda Cranes team that beat Cape Verde 1-0 at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole to seal the AFCON 2019 ticket

Since then, numerous athletes and sport personalities have registered their names and/or signatures as trade marks, including Andy Murray®, Roger Federer®, Wayne Rooney®, Lionel Messi®, Nico Rosberg®, Usain Bolt® and Lewis Hamilton®. It is also possible for an athlete or sports personality to register his/her initials in a stylised format as a logo.e.g, Andy Murray has a trade mark registered which, as a logo, includes his initials and the number 77 (77 representing his win at Wimbledon on 7 July).

Many athletes have signature moves, whether it’s their stance before they take a penalty kick or their celebration when they win.

What isn’t so well-known is that these stances and movements are potentially capable of trade mark registration. Usain Bolt has not only registered his name and signature as trade marks but also owns registered trademarks featuring his famous “lightning bolt” stance.

Sports events marks; these are essentially any sign logo, mark, name that is capable of distinguishing one sports competition (event) and its organiser from another. The most popular sports event mark is the interconnected rings of the Olympic Games with great legal protection.

Sports Events Copyright Broadcasting

The genesis of football season coincides with a change in the way viewers are consuming content.

As viewers continue to move online it is more important than ever for rights holders and broadcasters to take steps to protect themselves from the risks of illegal online streaming.

The Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA)-STAR-TIMES Premier League is leading this fight and the stakes are high through the broadcasting & licenses TV.

FUFA President Eng. Moses Magogo (M) with StarTimes officials during the unveiling of StarTimes Uganda Premier League deal

However, if rights holders fail to take steps to combat illegal streaming of their content then this can erode the value of their rights.

Online sharing affects IP rights where streams or clips of events are uploaded to the internet and made accessible to members of the public without the rights-holder’s consent.

Infringing streams are made available through social media platforms like, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, which clearly puts infringing content readily at the fingertips of a huge number of fans.

Traditional broadcasters in Uganda like Sanyuka TV that broadcasts such games also need to recognize that developments to their own content distribution can make it more difficult for Ugandan consumers to identify illegal content online.

The copyright protection provided to broadcasters when social media users capture clips of broadcast footage (i.e. the pictures and sound created by cable and network broadcasters), then upload and share that content online is of a unique nature which is equally attractive to the consumers.

Unlike an audiovisual recording of a game, match or race, which fixes the event in a tangible medium of expression and is therefore presumptive copyrightable, a sporting event itself is not copyrightable under Ugandan law.

Even though sporting events themselves are not copyrightable, the capture and transmission of such events might constitute infringement of intellectual property rights in various constituent elements of the event, such as: the marks and logos of the team, stadium and leagues or federations.

When copying a broadcast, copyright infringement occurs where all or any “substantial part” of a copyright work is reproduced or communicated to the public without authorization by the copyright owner.

There is an exception where an alleged infringer can show the use was “fair dealing with a work.

There is however a challenge of combating unauthorized online broadcasting through enforcement of intellectual property rights in sports.

This is because potential infringement claims will be based on the disparate rights of so many stakeholders (like teams, leagues, players, venues – and in the case of background music, music publishers), which will require their cooperation.

In considering available legal and business strategies, organizers and federations should revisit and review ticket terms and conditions with a view toward prohibiting, and providing appropriate contractual penalties for, unauthorized broadcasting of events.

A ticket is a spectator’s contract of admission to an event, and typically contains restrictions on filming and photography.

Personality Rights

These are the rights to control the commercial and economic exploitation of one’s personality and its peculiar attributes, like an individual’s name, image, likeness, unique personality traits relating to his/her personal identity.

Personality rights can be leveraged upon by sports association/sports events organisers to boost their competitive edge.

It can help in no small measure in the brand development and building of sports teams and sports competition. They are also known as image rights though not an integral part of IP but related.

Image rights are simply the right a player possesses to control, sell, license and otherwise monetize his or her likeness – that is, his or her image, name, nickname, voice, signature and all other characteristics unique to the player.

A case in point is Aqua Sipi brand association with 2012 Olympic gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich, who is their ambassador.

The rest include Patents & Trade Secrets.

In conclusion lets all embrace the role of Intellectual Property in Sports business in Uganda through awareness.

Brian Kajubi

Author: Kajubi Brian

The Author is an Advocate of High Court, an Intellectual Property law & Sports Law Practitioner

MAIN PHOTO: The new design of the Uganda Cranes jersey being officially unveiled.