Fox didn’t have express written consent to use footage of Muhammad Ali during its 2017 Super Bowl broadcast, and now his estate is seeking at least $30 million as compensation.
In a complaint filed Oct. 10 in federal court in Chicago, Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC accused Fox Broadcasting Company of violating the 1946 Lanham Act as well as state law in delivering a promotional video immediately before the beginning of February’s broadcast of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.
According to the complaint, Fox used “Ali’s name, image and likeness as the centerpiece of its three-minute promotional video for its broadcast of Super Bowl LI,” with viewership estimated to exceed 111 million people.
“The video begins with a narrator who says, ‘Walk with me. Walk with me as I confront greatness’ while the viewer sees the back of a boxer meant to be Ali, wearing a robe that says ‘The Greatest. The Lip.’ The viewer sees actual film footage of Ali, as the viewer hears Ali shouting, ‘I am the Greatest!’ The narrator continues, again imploring, ‘Walk with me. I can show you what it means to be the greatest.’”
Ali, who died June 3, 2016, at age 74, is the subject of much of the rest of the short, titled “The Greatest.” The video follows his boxing career, controversies, personal achievements “including his principled stance as a conscientious objector (to the Vietnam War) and his lighting the torch at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta,” according to the complaint, eventually giving way “to imagery of NFL legends, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Joe Namath, John Elway, Tom Brady, Vince Lombardi, and Peyton Manning. …
“Juxtaposing images of Ali walking down a tunnel with those of Super Bowl greats walking in a tunnel on their way to the playing field, the narrator invites the viewer to ‘walk with me to that light at the end of the tunnel.’ He concludes that ‘it’s the only way to prove you’re worthy of being called The Greatest.’”
The video ends with the Super Bowl LI logo and then a screen including Ali’s name and the years of his birth and death. Muhammad Ali Enterprises said Fox “never requested or received” permission to use Ali’s identity or imply his endorsement of Fox or its Super Bowl broadcast. It further said Fox could have sold the three minutes of airtime to an advertiser for $30 million.
Muhammad Ali Enterprises “owns the trademark rights, copyrights, right of publicity and all other intellectual property rights” related to Ali. According to the complaint, the company carefully controls “the nature and frequency of his product endorsements — rejecting far more requests” than are granted — to maintain Ali’s value.
In addition to asking the court to award it at least $30 million, the company also seeks a permanent injunction forcing Fox to “refrain from any use of Ali’s identity without prior authorization” and to have all physical and digital copies of the video deleted.
Muhammad Ali Enterprises also said Fox violated the Illinois Right of Publicity Act. It said the Chicago court “has personal jurisdiction over Fox because it regularly conducts business in this District and caused the promotional video at issue to be disseminated throughout the District.”
Representing Muhammad Ali Enterprises in the matter are attorneys from Schiff Hardin LLP, of Chicago.