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The Yau Law Firm
Focused on Protecting Businesses and Representing the Injured

Rajon Rondo vs. NBA: Fashion Statement or Moral Rights of Logo?

  The NBA logo is recognizable across the country.  Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics has made the upside-down NBA headband a trend.  The NBA did more than just frown upon the fashion statement.  The league has stepped in again and asked him not to wear it that way.  They did not give a particular reason to Rondo, just threatened with excessive fines.  My guess is that the NBA wanted their trademark portrayed in a consistent manner.  While I understand their position from a trademark attorney‘s perspective, as a business advisor, I think consumers would rather wear the NBA logo Rondo’s way or not at all.  In fact, preventing Rondo from wearing it the way he likes it may mean that fans boycott apparel with the NBA logo altogether!

The NBA is in a predicament.  On the one hand, as a trademark owner, they have the burden of enforcing the consistent display of their trademark, or they may lose their rights.  On the other, the players dictate NBA merchandise sales, as fans inevitably emulate their heros’ fashion statements.

At the end of the day, an upsidedown logo arguably communicates a different message than intended.  This affects the NBA’s moral rights.  A moral right doesn’t refer to ethics, or right from wrong.  Instead, it refers to the right an author has to prevent revision, alteration, or distortion of their trademark.  A trademark owner’s moral rights are actually protected under 17 U.S.C.  §106A, also known as the Visual Artists’ Rights Act (VARA) of 1990.

Is the NBA acting within their rights as trademark owners?  Absolutely.  Is flexing their ownership muscles in their best interest from a public relations standpoint?  Doubtful.  Only time will tell.

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