If you’re in college and are an athlete, something to get familiar with is the term “NIL,” which stands for name, image and likeness. This legal concept refers to an individual’s right of publicity and right to capitalize on it.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that NCAA college athletes have the right to their NIL, so they can look for third-party sponsorships, endorsements and other benefits from using their image and likeness.
NIL hasn’t always been this straightforward
NIL has changed over time and is straightforward today, but in the past athletes couldn’t profit while playing a sport under the NCAA. In 2009, a former UCLA basketball player filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Company because the organizations used his NIL without permission. His NIL was used in an EA Sports game without compensation.
Between then and 2014, 20 former athletes also joined his case, and a judge ruled in that same year that the NCAA’s rules violated antitrust laws.
By 2019, there were real changes happening. California was the first state to sign legislation regarding an athlete’s right to their NIL with “The Fair Pay to Play Act.” This act allows athletes of any age to make money from their NIL.
The changes have spread, and at the end of 2019, the NCAA started to build legislation about the NIL rights to fight back. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA. The court again determined that the NCAA’s restrictions violated antitrust laws and couldn’t ban athletes from profiting from their image or likeness. That means that they can now look into sponsorships, endorsement deals and other arrangements that help them earn from their time in the sport.
The history of changes to NIL laws matter, because today’s ability to seek compensation for your image’s use is new. If you find out that someone is using your name, image or likeness without permission, you can look into the specific laws in your state and, if your rights have been violated, consider filing a lawsuit to protect your right to NIL.