I was going to skip it this year, honest.  But it really does get even better, not worser.  So, as I started out last year’s Super Bowl post:

Every year around Super Bowl time I post an item about the NFL’s overzealous efforts to impose a gridiron grip on all aspects of its somewhat valuable SUPER BOWL® trademark:

  • In 2007, the NFL tried to claim ownership of the euphemism of choice for the Big Game, THE BIG GAME
  • Later that year, someone picked up on how the NFL was requiring unwitting professionals trying to do their jobs on the field to be involuntary Super Bowl billboards
  • One year I even ran a contest, which for how it flopped should have been called the not so super bowl, for the most preposterous euphemisms and end-runs employed by people and businesses intimidated out of making completely lawful use of the SUPER BOWL trademark
  • Also in 2008 I also linked here to a good article rounding up the NFL’s heavy-handed IP blitz (here’s another one for 2009)
  • And as I wrote in 2009 regarding the SWAT-team-like actions against sellers of “unauthorized” Super Bowl merchandise, “It’s the overselling that’s offensive, because of course the NFL has a trademark right to SUPER  BOWL.  But like all IP owners, the league has set up a campaign not only to protect its legitimate rights but a buffer of illegimate intimidation-based quasi-rights around the real thing. . . . Everyone knows ‘the fan’doesn’t need to be protected from allegedly shoddy merchandise bearing an NFL team logo any more than “the fan” needs to be protected from shoddy merchandise bearing paisley, polka dots or duckies. ‘The fan’ chooses what he wants to spend on a garment and is perfectly willing and able to evaluate quality for himself” without implicating, much less being confused about, the NFL as “source.”

You’d think that would have covered the whole nine yards by now, right?  Nope — not when sports leagues are out there making perfect fools of themselves over IP-based grabbing!  Well, what would make this year different from all other years?

Now, I’m not even writing about the “Who Dat” trademark thing because I frankly had no idea what that was about — I’d seen the headline but again, I had no clue — until I looked just now for a link to link to.  It’s not merely that I’m a language reactionary who recoils from… “dat” kind of thing.  I just  don’t follow sports closely enough, or have a TV, or think it matters whose “trademark” a fan cheer is because — well it’s obvious, isn’t it?  It’s not a trademark at all!  It’s a cheer!

OK, so we’re not talking about that.  No, this year it was copyright (via @copycense), not trademark, that spurred me to resurrect my annual Super Bowl post — namely, this from Nate Anderson:

An offhand comment the other day by a friend caught my attention—”Did you know that you can’t watch the Super Bowl on a TV screen larger than 55 inches? Yeah, it’s right there in the law.”


With the Colts and Saints set to do battle in Super Bowl XLIV, this seemed worth looking into as a public service. Could it be that some of those giant flat panel TV sets now finding their way into US living rooms are actually violating copyright law?

Yes, it’s in the law—sort of

Copyright law has a huge range of exemptions (like face-to-face classroom teaching), limitations (like fair use), and compulsory licensing schemes (like paying songwriters when you perform a cover version of a tune). Some are well known, but most are of interest only to specialists.

US Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 110 is called “Limitations on exclusive rights: exemption of certain performances and displays,” and it lays out 12 of these exemptions to copyright restrictions. Are 55+ inch TVs mentioned specifically? They certainly are.

TV broadcasts and movie showings can only be displayed so long as “no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers.” So there it is in black and white—a ban on big TVs!

Sort of.

Following which Nate then explains that the law is a little more subtle than that, and that it isn’t really all that crazy of a law, after all.   Which it’s not.   He adds that following one embarrassing recent legal fumble, now the NFL doesn’t even enforce the statute against churches, which is entirely appropriate — where else should you perform a religious ceremony such as a Super Bowl party, anyway?

Sort of.

UPDATE:  Is the NFL a “trademark bully“?

By Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

19 thoughts on “SUPER BOWL® time!!”
  1. Maybe it’s a marketing ploy. There are just that many more articles focusing on the Super Bowl now. Including folks walking around saying “Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl” out of spite. Can’t buy that kind of recognition!

  2. […] Ron Coleman over at LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION (R) gives a quick overview of the NFL’s trademark practice, including, among other things, attempts to register a trademark in “The Big Game,” to force professionals photographers working at The Big Game to wear Reebok and Canon logos, and to claim that their overzealous enforcement of trademarks is done in the interest of the fans. (Coleman also goes into the “55-inch TV rule” people are writing about, but I find that argument extremely dishonest and unnecessary, especially considering there are legitimate IP things we can use to get angry.) […]

  3. The NFL is going too far. I’m not sure if you’re still reading this post, but we have a client trying to advertise a party in Dallas for Super Bowl (heh, I printed it) 2011. He said that NFL lawyers told him that he can’t even use the phrase “SB XLV”.

    This is terrible. How are you supposed to advertise on AdWords, where the characters are limited, for the phrase “The Big Game in Dallas Party”. Oh god, that sounds horrible.

    1. It’s not a matter of whether he really can or can’t, legally. It’s a matter of who can afford to find out the answer? Almost no one can. That’s a huge problem with the way our system works now.

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