On Monday, Zlatan Ibrahimović announced via Twitter that he’d be launching an investigation into FIFPro over providing image rights for his likeness to video games without his direct permission. This sentiment was further echoed by Gareth Bale and is now set to be joined by more footballers. Let’s take a look at what this could mean.
Simulation video games like FIFA strive on offering players as immersive a real-life experience as one could have from the comfort of their homes. A major part of this is determined by how many actual names (leagues, teams, players, stadia) and images a game can feature, which solely depends on the number of licenses the publishers (in this case, EA) purchase.
The image rights to a player usually allow a company to use the player’s name, likeness, photo, physical details and other personal data for their products. In case of football games like FIFA, Pro Evo, and Football Manager, the rights to legally feature the official names of real-life players used to be mandated by FIFPro (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels), the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers on behalf of its players. In recent times, EA has started striking up deals directly with the major leagues to add to their game’s authenticity which in turn gives them rights to feature real-life likeness of the leagues, its constituent teams, and by extension, the players. Games like Pro Evo and Football Manager feature significantly less licensing in their games and mostly focus on individual partnerships with players themselves or their teams.
The most striking part about this revelation was the fact that the players barely had any idea of who FIFPro was, nor were they ever directly asked to consent for their likeness to feature in a video game. Given how far back in time the FIFA and Pro Evo roots go, it’s almost astonishing it has taken this long for this debate to accelerate. More players are reported to be joining Zlatan and Bale in this investigation.
When asked to comment on the situation, EA simply pointed out to their exclusive partnership with AC Milan to justify Zlatan’s appearance in the game, and their long-time association with the Premier League in case of Gareth Bale. A curt response, given how long both players have featured in the FIFA instalments. Bale even served as one of the main ambassadors for FIFA’s 2013 release, FIFA 14.
The discussion around what constitutes private information of a player and what constitutes proprietary data to the organisation they’re part of has always been murky, given the paucity of legislature that governs said information. Earlier this year, 400 or so professional footballers (both past and present) from the UK joined together to launch Project Red Card, a challenge aimed at gaming, sports betting, and analytics companies to investigate into why and how their personal data (including performance metrics) is being leveraged for financial gain without their direct consent. The lawsuits, if successful, could bring in tens of thousands of pounds to each person.
The players’ inquisition into usage of their information signals a vigilant sense of identification that, in the long run, will pave way for more constructive discussions and subsequently, better laws. Their image and data are part of their athlete persona, and they are well within their rights to know how other companies get their hands on it. In the end, it’s about consent; if you have theirs, then Bob’s your uncle.
Watch this space as we get more updates on the matter.