Levelling the playing field in Esports – Dutch image rights in games

In 2017, the District Court of Amsterdam ruled in a case where the portrait of former Dutch football player Edgar Davids was used in the video game 'League of Legends' without his permission.

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To mark the occasion of the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil, the developer of the video game League of Legends (‘LoL’) introduced four new soccer “skins” (graphics used to change the appearance of game characters of objects). In response to this, footballer Edgar Davids initiated proceedings against the developers of LoL, on the grounds it had infringed his image right by offering the skin of the characher “Striker Lucian”[1].

The Court had to answer two questions to determine whether Edgar Davids’ image right had indeed infringed:

  1. Was Striker Lucian in the image of Edgar Davids? and
  2. If the answer was yes, was such use of Striker Lucian in the game unlawful?

In short, the Court held that the Striker Lucian skin was a portrait of Edgar Davids within the meaning of the Dutch Copyright Act, because Striker Lucian was – just like Edgar Davids – dark skined, with a sporty posture, an aggressive playing style, black dreadlocks and sport glasses, all in combination with a football kit.

After the Court established that Stricker Lucian was in the image of Edgar Davids, it subsequently considered whether Edgar Davids had a reasonable interest in opposing the use of the Striker Lucian skin. The Court concluded that in the balance of, on the one hand Edgar Davids’ interest in opposing the commercial exploitation of his image without compensation, and on the other hand Riots Games’ interest in offering an additional skin for payment in LoL, the interest of Edgar Davids outweighed that of Riot Games.

Want to see Striker Lucian, know more about this case or about image rights in the Netherlands? Read our full case report in June’s inaugural issue of the Interactive Entertainment Law Review (IELR).

[1] District Court Amsterdam, 09 August 2017, ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2017:5415 (Riot Games).

Thijs is an associate in our Intellectual Property Practice and is based in The Hague. He specialises in intellectual property law, including copyrights, patents, trademarks, domain names, designs and advertising. Thijs also has expertise in customs regulations and anti-counterfeiting. He is a member of our Tech & Comms and Media, Entertainment and Sport Groups.

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