Football: image rights at the heart of a legal dispute between former players and Panini vignettes

The Panini stickers, known to all young football fans, are at the heart of a legal battle between former players against Panini and the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP), the players’ union.

Fifteen professional football players who have played in Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 have taken Panini France to court. They consider that the use of their image rights, ceded to the company by the UNFP, is illegal.

“There is no more consent”

The former French international Jérôme Rothen, passed by the PSG, but also lesser known players like Nicolas Dieuze, Tripy Makonda, Vincent Bessat or Pierre Ducasse filed a complaint against the company which manufactures the famous stickers, last October. The case is now in the hands of the Paris court, which is examining the case on Wednesday June 30.

For mee Élie Dottelonde, lawyer at the Paris bar and counsel to these players, “The UNFP, via the professional football charter, monopolizes the right to market their image”. When several players from several teams are represented, “there is no longer any concept of consent” individual, he explains to AFP, the management of rights falling to the UNFP.

The lawyer also deplores the“opacity” of the union, which “holds the monopoly of the image rights of the players and derives profits from it”through a contract with Panini. “The amounts of these contracts do not show”, he points out. But the players do not draw from it, on their side, “only 150 to 200 € per year”depending on whether they play in Ligue 1 or 2. A consideration deemed “ridiculous”“compared to the millions of euros of turnover achieved by Panini” and the sums “unknowns” affected by the UNFP.

“Small Reward”

For UNFP lawyers, this “little reward” of players only constitutes“a small advantage in all those whose (professional players) benefit thanks to the union: end-of-career savings, actions for young footballers”. And the sums collected by the syndicate “are only a source of budget for the UNFP”.

For Panini, football – excluding special editions, not governed by contracts with the UNFP – “represents only 10% of turnover”, assures Alain Guerrini. At the head of Panini France for more than 40 years, he recalls “the importance of complying with the law and respecting existing agreements”like the one linking Panini to the UNFP in the use of players’ images.

First complaint

“Everything is done legally”he assures. “We are surprised by these actions, which came much after the fact (most of the complainants were no longer professional players), the players could not ignore” that they were reproduced on the thumbnails, since they received the albums, insists Alain Guerrini.

During their career, “none of them ever complained” with Panini on questions of image rights. “Only once did a player not wish to be reproduced. He told us about it, and he didn’t..

For Panini, contractual relations with the UNFP are “confidently and transparently”. “Everything has been working very well for several years”recalls Alain Guerrini, hoping that justice will reinforce these contractual links.


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