Do defunct sports teams (not teams that have changed cities or identities, but teams that literally no longer exist in any capacity) still have the copyright to their logos/jerseys? Or does the sports league they belonged to still own it? What if the league itself is defunct? Thank you!
1 Answer from Attorneys
The leagues generally own the trademarks and service marks (you mean trademark not copyright)and these rights continue for some time after they stop the team. For example, it is doubtful anyone can start up a baseball team called the Brooklyn Dodgers or Washington Senators or St. Louis Browns, even though those are long gone. The question to ask is "Is there a likelihood of confusion as to source or affiliation." For those, you know there would be. The lesser known the team, the less likely residual rights exist, but even small teams sometimes have big local residual goodwill. If the team and league are both gone, then the chance of getting sued for using the logos is obviously less. A good trademark lawyer can check the trademark register, the corporate name records, the state trademark records, the dba registers, the domain name registrations, and the like and make a pretty good guess for you. It would be worth your paying a search & consultation fee before you invest any large dollars in a former sports team's logos. There is always a chance of a purchase of the residual rights for the right price and a trademark lawyer can help you with that. If you do this on your own you take a big legal risk, so be smart and get some smart help.
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