Licensing rights to players’ images belong to baseball teams, court rules

The Tokyo District Court ruled Tuesday that the right to license the names and likenesses of professional baseball players belongs to their ballclubs.

The ruling was made in response to a claim filed by Japan Professional Baseball Players Association chief Shinya Miyamoto of the Yakult Swallows and 33 other players.

The group was asking the court to confirm that ballclubs do not have the authority to license their names and likenesses for use in video games and baseball cards.

At issue was a provision in the 1951 unified contract that all professional ballplayers must sign when joining their respective clubs. The provision states that the right to players’ likenesses and copyrights belong to the club and that the athletes will file no objections regarding how those rights are used in advertising.

Although she dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim, Judge Makiko Takabe noted that “there is room for a review” to update the provision in accordance with the times.

Miyamoto said on the association’s Web site that the court’s decision was “truly regrettable” given that the courts in the United States and South Korea have ruled that these rights belong to the individual athletes.

The group is expected to continue pursuing the issue and deepening public discussion of the matter, Miyamoto said.