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Manchester United are suing Football Manager developers over use of their name

As big sports organisations are wont to do, Manchester United are getting touchy about the use of their name. The English Premier League have filed a complaint against Sega and Sports Interactive for the use of the team’s name in the Football Manager series. They take issue with how the series may “benefit from an association with the club’s winning culture and its brand values” without actually forking over cash to licence the team’s crest.

According to The Guardian, EPL claim “Sega and SI have infringed its trademark over its logo by not using the official Manchester United crest in the game” and instead using a more generic crest that just looks a lot like MU’s. They argue that “consumers expect to see the club crest next to the name Manchester United … and this failure to do so amounts to wrongful use.”

Sega and Sports Interactive point out that Manchester United’s name has been used in the Football Manager and Championship Manager series since 1992 “without complaint by the claimant.” I’m by and far from a copyright lawyer but I’m given to understand that precedent like that is important. They in turn accuse EPL of attempting to “prevent legitimate competition in the video games field by preventing parties not licenced by the claimant from using the name of the Manchester United football team within such games.”

EPL also seem to be referencing user mods for Football Manager in a proposed amendment to their claim, calling them “downloadable files containing replica trademarks, which consumers then incorporate into the game.” Apparently they believe Sega and Sports Interactive are skirting around the need for a licence by “promoting the patch providers in various ways and, of course, they directly benefited from it by avoiding the need to take any licence and enjoying increased sales of their game.”

I’ve no doubt that mods replicating MU’s crest exist. Mod communities for all sorts of games contain lifted brand marks. I don’t believe I’ve seen any developer actively promote user-made mods that infringe on copyright claims though. It would be a pretty foolish move for, well, these exact reasons. Perhaps EPL are using a special legal definition for “promoting” that’s above my ken.

As a last tidbit, Sega adds that “the claimant’s staff working in the data analytics and scouting teams have contacted SI on various occasions asking for access to the Football Manager database for scouting and research purposes,” which is quite a clap back.

Ta, The Guardian.

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