Current NFL MVP Lamar Jackson has quickly gone from polarizing first round quarterback to one of the NFL’s best players. Last season, Jackson in only his second professional season, threw for a league-leading 36 touchdowns, threw 3,127 yards passing, and ran for 1,206 yards. Adding to Jackon’s accolades, this MVP performance came shortly after he won the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson’s significant collegiate and professional success, compounded by his flashy style, has led to a demand for Jackson’s brand. As reported by Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, during the last month of the 2019 season, Jackson’s became the NFL’s top selling jersey. To date, Jackson has avoided negotiating endorsements with major brands, rather he has opted to launch his own brand, Era 8 Apparel, and also used trademark law to protect marks associated with his name.
Despite his MVP season, rising popularity, and successful business dealings, Jackson has found himself in a contentious lawsuit this offseason, which will have a major impact on his financial well being moving forward. As reported by Jamison Hensley of ESPN, Jackson recently filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that it is selling unlicensed merchandise using his likeness and registered trademarks. Jackson is attempting to force Amazon to remove products, which advertise lines such as “Lamarvelous,” “Action Jackson” and “Not bad for a running back.” Additionally, Jackson is seeking compensation and money damages.
To date, Amazon has removed these items, however they can be seen through caches and are detailed in trial exhibits. Jackson argues that Amazon is advertising, marketing and selling these items, which infringe upon his clothing brand in a deceiving manner. Put simply, this tricks consumers into believing that he endorses these items. In other words, the current NFL MVP believes that Amazon is trying to “commercially exploit [his] celebrity and notoriety” without his consent or that of the NFL. Jackson believes Amazon is directly responsible, because Amazon markets these items as being shipped and/or sold by Amazon. Further, Jackson claims Amazon is directly responsible for the infringement upon his brand, because it offers third-party sellers a “Fulfillment by Amazon” service where goods sold by third parties are stored in Amazon warehouses and shipped out.
Jackson claims that Amazon is “pirating” his right of publicity and “blatantly exploiting” his fame. Accordingly, Jackson argues that Amazon is trying to “confuse and deceive” consumers to believe he is affiliated with this merchandise. This case is crucial to Jackson’s financial well being, because his clothing brand, and ability to receive his endorsements, have an ability to generate income for Jackson for years after he retires from the NFL. Jackson has realized this and quickly attempted to stop companies, such as Amazon, from undermining this potential income he has earned through his hard work and success.
As reported by Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, Amazon will likely build its defense in this lawsuit by attempting to distance itself from the products mentioned in Jackson’s complaint. Amazon would likely need to define the meaning and boundaries of the phrase, “shipped and sold by Amazon.com.” Put simply, Amazon likely will argue that while it offers customers guarantees when using Amazon to order from a third-party seller, the guarantees do not apply to the intellectual property rights of third-party goods.
Jackson’s attempt to stop companies from profiting from his brand, image, and/or likeness should come as no surprise. Additionally, this case, like many others, highlights the need for consumers to exercise due diligence when shopping from online retailers, because you may not actually be ordering a product affiliated with the brand you desire. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the Miami federal district court has issued restrictions that will slow the progression of this case. In addition, civil cases rarely make it to a trial, therefore it is likely this case will result in a settlement. However, for Lamar’s sake, hopefully his recent success on the field carries over to this legal matter, which will have a lasting impact on his financial future.