Hey Advertisers! Stop Believing The NFL's Lies About Trademark Law And Call The Super Bowl The Super Bowl

from the suck-it-up,-weenies dept

For years now, we’ve mocked how the NFL insists that no one can use the term “Super Bowl” in an advertisement unless they’re an official sponsor of the event. That’s why it’s become so typical to see advertisers using “the big game” instead — though, five years ago, the NFL even sought the trademark on “The Big Game” because so many advertisers were using it. However, Paul Levy rightly takes advertisers to task for being “weenies” and not standing up to the NFL on this. As he says:

Of course, the NFL’s position is nonsense — this is a nominative use that is just as permissible as, for example, referring to the “Chicago Bulls” instead of “the two-time world champions” or “the professional basketball team from Chicago” (Judge Kozinski’s example from a different era, when the Bulls mattered).

Basically, the game is called the Super Bowl, and calling it that isn’t trademark infringement, so long as you don’t imply that you’re an official sponsor or otherwise officially associated with the game. Of course, where it gets even more ridiculous is when news organizations heed the NFL’s warnings over this — such as the email Levy received from the Boston Globe (pdf) about the Super Bowl, where the term doesn’t appear at all. Levy points out that it’s simply ridiculous that a news organization (and a big one with plenty of lawyers who get this) would still not use “Super Bowl.” Levy suggests we start calling such ridiculousness out:

Instead of praising retailers who skate close to the edge, we should take a page from David Bollier’s excellent Brand Name Bullies and call them Brand Name Weenies.   Indeed, it is disappointing that a major metropolitan newspaper that belongs to an 800 pound gorilla like the New York Times Company is unwilling to defy the NFL by using the term in in its advertising.  The Times and the Globe certainly advertise their coverage of the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, also trademarked names.  If big players like the Times don’t have the cojones to stand up for bullying from the NFL, they make it harder for everybody else.  
 
In their recent book Reclaiming Fair Use, Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi warn that when we refrain from exercising our fair use rights, and act as if those rights do not exist, we help create a culture in which fair use loses ground to overly aggressive copyright enforcement.  The same is true in the trademark realm.  We can only hope that when the next Superbowl rolls around, the Times and its brethren, and even the HDTV sellers, will have shed their timidity.

It’s the Super Bowl. Call it the Super Bowl. Just… uh… don’t have too many friends over to watch it on a big screen. Because that’s copyright infringement.

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Companies: nfl

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Comments on “Hey Advertisers! Stop Believing The NFL's Lies About Trademark Law And Call The Super Bowl The Super Bowl”

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32 Comments
Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

I am hosting a Super Bowl party at my house

and we are going to watch it on a TV with 70 whole inches of viewing pleasure. I hope the NFL complains because I would love to make a mockery of them. Plus I bet that if they go after me I can make some money from the crazy amount of press I will get as people gasp with shock at the whole matter.

Franklin G Ryzzo (profile) says:

Re: Dear NFL...

I too am not interested in watching the Super Bowl this year. If the Ravens had been in the Super Bowl this year I would definitely be watching the Super Bowl with several friends this Super Bowl Sunday at a Super Bowl party. But alas, The Ravens didn’t make it into the Super Bowl, so I’m sure I can find something better to do while the Super Bowl is on… like burning Tom Brady (previous Super Bowl MVP) and Eli Manning (previous Super Bowl winner) in effigy. For everyone that does watch the Super Bowl I hope you enjoy the Big Game!

Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl

BeachBumCowboy (profile) says:

Game watching party

Hey Techdirt,

You are all invited to come watch the great athletic event held once a year, roughly 7 weeks before the vernal equinox, played by large athletic males of the teams representing persons who love their country, as well the unusually large persons living in the 3rd largest state of the union of former colonies located in North America. This year said contest will be be held in the capital city of the state admitted on December 11, 1816 to said union, inside the domed sports arena named after a regional manufacturer and distributor of automotive oil, additives, and lubricants.

We will be watching said contest on the large viewing apparatus designed and constructed by the leading electronics maker from the southern most country of the Korean Peninsula, with service provided by the cable provider recently separated from the large conglomerate media company with interests from magazines, to movie studies, and recently Internet providers. It should be a good time with food provided by various crispy tortilla manufacturers and fried spicy chicken wings traditionally associated with a Northeast city located along the border of the two northern most countries of North America.

Stephen Pollei (profile) says:

Yes especially news organizations shouldn’t put up with that kind of nonsense. If I was a news organization who was threatened with that I think I’d say “fine if we can’t come to a agreement within 30 days, then I promise I won’t mention your event for 5 years and I’ll encourage other news agencies to do likewise”… It’s free advertisement for them.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Well, my party to watch the Stupor Bowl(TM: Fuck You, NFL) will consist of my lovely 58″ Samsung Plasma TV, my wonderful wife sitting next to me, and my Dish Hopper to pause, replay, slow-mo, and even perhaps skip commercials.

We will dine, whine, scream, and laugh at the content of said Stupor Bowl(TM:FUNFL). And if the game becomes a stinker, the teams involved will gain suitably derogatory names, the NeeFLe will gain yet another one, and the Stupor Bowl(TM:FUNFL) shall continue to be the prime example of American corporate stupidity, for at least another 30 seconds or so.

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