Sports, Media, and Entertainment

Sports, Media, and Entertainment


Schiff Hardin attorneys regularly represent clients in high stakes, high profile litigation and transactions in the sports, media and entertainment industries. Though distinct, these industries share the need for lawyers who are nimble, creative, discreet and champions for their clients. Whether it is representing the Chicago Bears in the development of the new Soldier Field, defending the NCAA against antitrust attack, or helping Warner Brothers protect its rights to classic films, our lawyers bring these attributes to every case.

Representative Matters

The Hangover II Case: Just weeks before the scheduled worldwide release of The Hangover Part II, the owner of an alleged copyright in the tattoo on boxing legend Mike Tyson’s face brought a lawsuit against Warner Brothers Entertainment when advertisements revealed the same tattoo appearing on the face of actor Ed Helms. The plaintiff alleged that the movie infringed his copyright in the tattoo and asked the court to enjoin the movie’s release. Warner Brothers called on us to defend the case and to prevent a damaging injunction barring the release of the film. After a hearing held just two days before the scheduled release date, the judge decided in favor of Warner Brothers. The movie was released on time and Warner Brothers was able to earn the return of its investment in the second chapter of its highly profitable comedy series.

NCAA Antitrust Actions: When facing high-profile challenges to its rules precluding payment to student-athletes, the NCAA has called on us more than 30 times in the last 15 years..

In the O’Bannon Case, the challenge alleged that the NCAA rules restraining student-athletes from being compensated for so-called “group licenses” they would otherwise be able to sell to appear in television broadcasts of football and men’s basketball games. Schiff Hardin defeated the plaintiffs’ attempt to have a damages class certified.  The Court did certify an injunctive–relief class of current student-athletes, however, and our team then assisted at trial, developing the expert testimony and procompetitive justifications. The District Court ruled against the NCAA, but the firm is now assisting with appellate arguments and is taking the lead in defending against the plaintiffs’ fee petition, which seeks $44 million in statutory attorney fees.

In Keller vs. NCAA, the plaintiffs sought to represent a class of former student-athletes claiming that college sports-themed video games manufactured by co-defendant EA Sports violated student-athletes’ rights of publicity. All defendants have entered into settlement agreements with the proposed class, and the Court has granted preliminary approval. We are shepherding the settlement through the approval process on behalf of the NCAA. The parties are in the process of class notice, with final approval scheduled for July 2015.

In Rock vs. NCAA, we are the lead counsel in defending a challenge to one-year scholarships and limits on the number of athletic scholarships by sport. This case is a continuation of the Agnew vs. NCAA matter, which we won in the District Court and in the Seventh Circuit.

Right of Publicity Claim For Michael Jordan: When Mr. Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Sports Illustrated published a special commemorative edition of Sports Illustrated Presents covering Mr. Jordan’s storied career. Two grocery store chains took advantage of that opportunity to publish ads in the commemorative edition that used Mr. Jordan’s identity to promote and advertise their goods and services. Mr. Jordan called on us to protect his right of publicity and other intellectual property and thereby protect and preserve the value of his endorsement. We established, in an appeal to the Seventh Circuit, that use of Mr. Jordan’s identity in an advertisement touted by the retailer as a “tribute” is commercial speech under First Amendment jurisprudence and is subject to claims for its misuse.

Other Representative Matters

  • Sports
    • Counseled the NCAA in a lawsuit filed by Aloha Sports, alleging the NCAA had improperly denied certification to a football postseason bowl game. A Hawaii state jury found in favor of the NCAA.
    • Advised the NCAA in a case filed by Worldwide Sports, alleging that the NCAA violated federal antitrust law by limiting the number of tournament events that Division 1 college basketball teams could participate in. The lower court enjoined the rule, but the Sixth Circuit reversed on appeal.
  • Media
    • Successfully defended television networks and publications, including CBS Broadcasting, Fox Television, the New York Post, Fortune and Forbes, against claims of defamation.
    • Successfully prosecuted claims for misappropriation of name, likeness and image on behalf of Michael Jordan.
    • Made successful appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court of claims for defamation against a magazine publisher establishing that the fair report privilege cannot be defeated by actual malice and that there is no judicial action limitation on the privilege.
  • Entertainment
    • Successfully prosecuted copyright and trademark infringement claims against company infringing Warner Brothers’ copyrights in the Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind and Tom and Jerry.
    • Successfully defended the Sally Jesse Raphael show in a high-profile lawsuit filed by Scientology, which alleged the TV show’s interview with an elderly church member invaded her privacy under the Michigan Eavesdropping Act. The case was tried and won on the basis that the religious organization wanted to silence its critics, and that the Sally Jesse Raphael show was doing a public service through its reporting.
    • Led, obtained a preliminary injunction, and favorably settled a lawsuit on behalf of Antidote Films International and a consortium of independent filmmakers, producers and directors, against the Motion Picture Association of America for violating the antitrust laws. The MPAA banned awards-show screeners outside of its own voting membership, which put independent filmmakers at a disadvantage.
    • Served as Counsel to Antidote Films International in a fraud lawsuit it filed against novelist JT Leroy. The filmmaker had optioned the movie rights to an autobiography by the novelist, who turned out to be a fictitious character created by writer Laura Albert. The jury found in favor of Antidote, ruling that Albert defrauded the film production company.