eSports and image rights
The District Court of Amsterdam held, in its 9 August 2017 decision, that video game company Riot Games infringed the image rights of soccer star Edgar Davids in its game ‘League of Legends’.
League of Legends is one of the most played video games globally, with more than 67 million people playing the game per month and more than 43 million views for its annual World Championship (more views than the NBA Finals).
In its online League of Legends game, Riot Games introduced a 'striker' skin that converted the 'Champion Lucian' avatar into 'Striker Lucian'. With this skin applied, Striker Lucian - who has a broad jaw, dreadlocks and black, angular goggles - looks very similar to Edgar Davids, the retired soccer player. Due to this strong resemblance, and the fact that both are football players, Edgar Davids claimed infringement of his image rights under Dutch copyright law.
The court held that the combination of these elements (dreadlocks, goggles, dark skin color, sporty posture, aggressive play style, and football uniform) caused the public to identify 'Striker Lucian' as Edgar Davids. In supporting this conclusion, the court referred to the many social media messages from players and others commenting on the similar appearance. The court also relied on evidence that a Riot Games employee confirmed in a tweet that Davids was the inspiration for the skin.
Interestingly, the court dismissed Riot Games' plea on its fundamental right of freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights), concluding that Edgar Davids’ reasonable interests in opposing the disclosure of his image without compensation, outweigh Riot Games’ right of freedom of expression.
The court issued an injunction prohibiting Riot Games from continuing to use the 'Striker Lucian' skin and ordered Riot Games to compensate Edgar Davids. To calculate the compensation, the court ordered Riot Games to submit documents and audit statements indicating the turnover and profit realised by Riot Games in the Netherlands after the introduction of Striker Lucian.
Public figures, including soccer players like Johan Cruijf and Marco van Basten, have previously brought claims in the Netherlands for infringement of their image rights. However, their claims involved use of their images in offline contexts.
The District Court of Amsterdam’s ruling in this case shows that image rights cases involving public figures, in both on and off line use, will be strictly enforced in the Netherlands.
The full text of the decision (in Dutch): ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2017:5415
For more information, please contact Rogier de Vrey.