Home Sports What exactly is going on in the war over FIFA's image rights?

What exactly is going on in the war over FIFA’s image rights?

A huge row is threatening to engulf EA Sports’ hugely popular and award-winning FIFA series after Zlatan Ibrahimovic led a backlash against the use of his image.

The AC Milan striker claimed ‘somebody is making profit on my name and face’ as he ordered an investigation into who permitted the game to use his likeness.

According to The Athletic there are thousands of players, including a host of big names, set to follow Ibrahimovic’s lead in a revolt against the video game series.

Sportsmail take a look at what has happened so far and where this could lead…  

, Daily Echoed

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has led a backlash against the use of his image on the latest FIFA game

, Daily Echoed

FIFA 21 hit the shops earlier this month as the latest iteration of EA Sports’ flagship franchise

So, how did this start?

In this most 21st century of stories, it started with a tweet. Obviously.

The often outspoken Ibrahimovic took to social media with little fanfare, writing: ‘Who gave FIFA EA Sport permission to use my name and face? @FIFPro? I’m not aware to be a member of FIFPro and if I am I was put there without any real knowledge through some weird manoeuvre. 

‘And for sure I never allowed or FIFPro to make money using me.

‘Somebody is making profit on my name and face without any agreement all these years. Time to investigate.’ 

In two days the post has received 6,000 retweets and 56,000 likes, and it appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Essentially, Ibrahimovic is arguing that he has lost out on potential earnings from the money that EA Sports is making by using his name and face to sell their franchise.

, Daily Echoed

, Daily Echoed


So others have followed Zlatan’s lead?

They certainly have. Gareth Bale didn’t take long to join in the questioning.

The Spurs winger responded:’@Ibra_official Interesting… what is FIFPro?#TimeToInvestigate.’

Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, said that potential legal action was ‘something that is being looked into’.

‘At the moment, the players don’t get paid,’ he said. ‘Our big gripe is that FIFA are coming out with lots of rules and regulations saying that they are looking after the best interests of players but obviously they don’t.’

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, then joined in, tweeting at EA Sports to say: ‘FifPro and AC Milan do not have players individual rights as I’m sure you know and as we’ve told you many times.’

Ibrahimovic then tweeted again, telling EA Sports: ‘I AM NOT A MEMBER OF @FIFPro’.

Though these are the highest profile so far, there are expected to be more, with the Athletic reporting that ‘a growing number of top players’ will followed their lead and voice their objections to use of their likeness without ‘proper consent’. 

, Daily Echoed

, Daily Echoed

, Daily Echoed

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, said that ‘FifPro and AC Milan do not have players individual rights’

What have EA Sports and FIFPro said?

FIFPro have so far stayed schtum, but EA Sports have defended their use of player likenesses and insist that they have the correct licenses to do so.

They said, in a statement: ‘We are aware of discussions around licensing of players in EA Sports FIFA. The current situation being played out on social media is an attempt to draw FIFA 21 into a dispute between a number of third parties and has little to do with EA Sports.

‘To be very clear, we have contractual rights to include the likeness of all players currently in our game. As already stated, we acquire these licenses directly from leagues, teams, and individual players. 

‘In addition, we work with FIFPro to ensure we can include as many players as we can to create the most authentic game. In these instances, our rights to player likenesses are granted through our club agreement with AC Milan and our long-standing exclusive partnership with the Premier League, which includes all players for Tottenham Hotspur.’

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EA Sports have defended their use of player likenesses and insist that they have the correct licenses to do so

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Kylian Mbappe is the cover star of the new FIFA game, the 28th of the long-running series

Why is image rights such a thorny issue?

Image rights includes everything that forms part of the player’s image – from their name, likeness, photograph, physical details and personal characteristics. Anything that can be marketed to brands and commercial partners.

The use of likenesses in video games is thorny because what a publisher is entitled to depends on the laws of a jurisdiction, although the game itself does not change by location.

Deals for image rights have become commonplace over the last 20 years as the sport has grown ever more popular.

The deals enable players to exploit their likeness for commercial value through sponsorship and endorsement activities.

Players often set up an image rights company, so that money earned from the use of their image is paid directly there instead of as a salary. 

Ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Mohamed Salah became embroiled in a dispute with the Egyptian FA when his image was used to promote the national side’s official sponsor WE, while the Liverpool star had his own sponsorship deal with Vodafone. 

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Mohamed Salah was embroiled in a dispute with the Egypt over his image rights in 2018

Where do FIFPro come in?

The international players’ union has the authority to sell name and likeness rights on behalf of every player from a member nation.

It is worth noting that players are not directly members of FIFPro, rather they come under the umbrella of the 63 national players’ associations drawn from across the world.

One of FIFPro’s main objectives is to ensure a player’s name or likeness may only be used in a commercial setting with their consent, hence Ibrahimovic’s complaint. 

Football games must have a specific agreement with their clubs or with individual players to use the image rights of players.

In the summer AC Milan revealed a collaboration with EA Sports meaning gamers can play as the Serie A giants at the San Siro stadium, which they also believe gives them the right to use the striker’s image. 

Premier League clubs sell their video game licensing rights collectively, which includes players details and stadium names.

Serie A is the only league from Europe’s top five which has not collectivised its video game licensing rights. 

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Former Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo was the cover star of FIFA 18, released in 2017

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Lionel Messi, pictured on the set of the FIFA 15 TV commercial, has also been a cover star

What happens next?

The public nature of Ibrahimovic’s complaint suggests that there is far more to come. Indeed the revelation that there are many more to come forward indicates that this could run for some time. 

But there is not thought to be a coordinated campaign in the offing, though these complaints could lead to legal action being taken on the players’ behalves.

A number of high-profile players are believed to have instructed their representatives to investigate whether they are entitled to some of the proceeds made from the use of their likeness on the game, with most contracts including lucrative image right deals.

What effect it has on EA Sports’ flagship product, which last year was listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the best-selling sports video game franchise in the world with 282.4 million copies sold, remains to be seen.

FIFA has been able to steal a march on its primary rival, Komani’s Pro Evolution Soccer series, with its access to the official rights of players, teams and leagues.

That cornering of the market appears to be the most under threat as this issue rumbles on.  

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