Shaquille O’Neal files lawsuit against Las Vegas company for “Shaqtus” portrayal and other infringing activities
A few weeks ago, it was Michael Jordan suing Chicago-based grocery stores, this week it is Shaquille O’Neal suing a Las Vegas business called True Fan Logo. In both instances, businesses from the hometown of the NBA teams Jordan and O’Neal played for (respectively) used the Right of Publicity of each player without authorization.
Like many high-value personalities, O’Neal has a company in place for handling the management of his intellectual property rights, including his trademark and Right of Publicity. Mine O’Mine, Inc., O’Neal’s company, is therefore named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed against defendant True Fan Logo as well as the individuals who own True Fan Logo.
The activity giving rise to the lawsuit relates to defendant’s online store named “Shaqtus Orange Clothing Co.” as well as some interesting exchanges between the parties.
When O’Neal played for the Phoenix Suns, he was known as “The Big Cactus” and “The Big Shaqtus.” O’Neal now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The lawsuit states that the defendant’s web site displays an animated cactus character with O’Neal’s likeness, wearing an orange “Phoenix Shaqtus” jersey and the number 32, which was O’Neal’s number when he played for the Suns.
The law suit also includes allegations of some interesting exchanges between defendant’s company and ESPN, including defendant’s issuance of a cease and desist letter to ESPN claiming that defendant owned the rights to the Shaq cactus image, but offering to resolve the matter if ESPN would do business with defendant. Reportedly, ESPN responded that it had permission from Shaquille O’Neal’s company for the ESPN cactus portrayal, and that in fact it was defendant’s who were infringing upon O’Neal’s intellectual property rights.
The law suit also details an exchange between the parties in which defendant’s claim that Shaquille O’Neal consented to defendant’s use of the Shaqtus name when O’Neal posed for a picture with defendant and signed a t-shirt for the defendant.
The lawsuit includes claims ranging from trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition to cybersquatting for defendant’s use of domain names that employ O’Neal’s intellectual property rights.
Without commenting on the various issues involved in this claim, I will simply note that perhaps the circumstances giving rise to this lawsuit, if taken at face value, may explain why athletes are sometimes reluctant to sign autographs for “fans” who then try to exploit that autograph, photograph or brief interaction for commercial gain.