Friday, May 27, 2011

Does NFL Sticker + Lamp = Infringement?

Dallas Cowboys Glass Table
Lamp from Fansedge.com
Dear Rich: I have what I think may be a complex question and hope you can help me. Let's say I build a custom lamp and I also sell licensed NFL stickers. My question is if a customer would like to purchase a NFL sticker and have it put on the lamp, is that an infringement on the logo? Short answer: It probably depends on who places the sticker on the lamp. If you affix it, you may get a cease and desist letter from the NFL. If the customer does it, you're less likely to have problems.
Isn't that arbitrary? Yes, it is. But in the eyes of the NFL, you become a seller of NFL merchandise once you offer to sell lamps with logos on them, whether it's done at the request of the customer or under your own initiative. By selling a kit, you're less likely to run into problems --  for example, like these tail gate party kits. It's true that the NFL offers kits to create things (including pumpkin carving kits) but you're in a better position for a few reasons, including the first sale doctrine. As a general rule you should avoid including the NFL or team names in your website name or URL, and a disclaimer - "This website is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NFL" - may also help.
Bottom Line Dept. As with so many Dear Rich questions, your inquiry has a lot more to do with how visible you are on the NFL radar screen. If we were you, however, we'd still feel more secure if we were selling the parts separately rather than assembled.