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Is it copyright infringement to use a name and number from a sports player's jersey?

Orlando, FL |

If I would like to make a t-shirt (with nothing on it identifiable to the sports team that the player is on; for example's sake just imagine the rest of the shirt is blank) that had a professional sports player's name and number on it, is that a copyright violation? Or would this be considered fair game since any regular person could have the same last name as the player?

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer

Even from deep in her snowstorm, Ms. Winston is correct, this isn't a copyright question, it's a question of a violation of the right of publicity. If you attach a known player's name and number to a jersey that has not her to do with his or her team colors, you may be safe, especially if the name is common, but if the name and number are clearly identifiable as a known player, it's probably best to stay away from it. I'll give you an example: my son, whose last name is Rose, likes to use the number 14, for obvious reasons, when he plays high school baseball. Given that his school jerseys look nothing like the Reds, and given that he is using our real last name, I'm not too worried about his using the number 14, but I think that, if the circumstances were a little different, he might be pushing it.

The contents of this answer should be considered friendly advice, not legal advice (I'm a pretty friendly guy), and the answer should not be construed to constitute an attorney-client relationship. Also, if you liked this answer as much as my big ego thinks you did, be sure to click the thumbs-up button!

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


Yes, but if your son puts "Rose" above that 14 and advertises the shirt for sale on eBay, you will hear from a trademark attorney from MLB in short order. I think that is what the Asker wants to do, and what will happen if he does.


Do you think that you are not using the player's identity?

Yankee Stadium and "3" is instantly recognizable as Babe Ruth. Fenway Park and "9" could only mean Ted Williams. 42 is Jackie Robinson everywhere. Jordan and 23 are one in the same. Why would you pick the number and name if it didn't mean something special?

MLB, NBA, NFL and even NHL make a lot of money licensing items.I think you are headed for trouble with this business model.



This answer seems a bit circumstantial. You're making the assumption that a sport (your baseball references) are globally recognizable, when in reality baseball is followed closely only by Western countries and Southern Asia. Not that what I would be selling would be for sale elsewhere, but mentioning Fenway and the number 9 would have no meaning to the overwhelming majority of the population of Eastern Europe or Africa, for example. For response sake, I did edit the shirts due to all the answers regarding publicity rights, so there is no longer a number on the back


It's great to ask questions like this rather than just guessing and assuming. Without knowing more, I can only provide general information. It is probably not copyright infringement but the player could claim a violation of his right of publicity. I suggest that you consult with a lawyer about your specific situation before you go forward. PS I love the Orlando area and wish I were there now (as we deal with yet another snowstorm here)!

The above is for general information purposes and should not be regarded as attorney advice or as establishing any attorney-client relationship.


No, you have the wrong form of IP. Copyrights deal with works of art, such as paintings, music, books and movies. Your concern is with Publicity Rights (commercial use of the name or likeness of a celebrity, or in some states anyone) and of trademarks (brand names). I have little doubt the name and number you propose will violate at least publicity rights and likely, although you seems to deny it, trademarks. Gaming the system to peddle someone else's property is not "fair game" it's illegal game.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.