Soccer Pros Are Concerned About FIFA Using Their Likenesses

Questions of who owns image and likeness rights are rising with the latest installment of FIFA.

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Thousands of professional soccer players are apparently planning on objecting to the use of their likenesses in FIFA 21, according to reporting by The Athletic.

Earlier this week, AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic put out a tweet questioning why his likeness is being used in FIFA 21, since he isn't part of FIFPro. FIFPro is a global union effort for soccer pros and is involved in selling the image rights for players within member countries. Another pro, Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur, tweeted at Ibrahimovic in support asking what FIFPro is and the hashtag "time to investigate."

According to The Athletic, sources have stated that several other professional players will also be adding their voices to the callout, as they feel their likenesses are being used without proper consent. The actual legality around this is slippery at best. What a publisher can or can't include based on image rights depends based on the laws of different countries and their jurisdictions, but the games themselves don't really change based on location so rights get sticky fairly quickly.

Currently, FIFPro does have a mandate to sell image and likeness rights on behalf of players from member nations. If players are on a team not part of FIFPro, or if they have a special agreement with the union, players either hold the rights to their likenesses themselves, or their club, league, or national federation does. If a game wants to use these likenesses, it needs to make a deal with the player or their club. Premier League clubs sell all of their video game licensing rights collectively, with the exception of Serie A.

Though the legality of all of this is hard to track, there is precedent for players claiming victories over EA. In a class action lawsuit this past summer, more than 450 players came together to fight against EA's reproductions of their likenesses and won, resulting in EA Sports having to pay around $6.5 million in total for its reproductions of athletes' likenesses in its games from 2005-2014. It remains to be seen if another such victory will come about this time.

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