Law of Cards

Law of Cards

I love baseball cards. Not just for the anticipation of discovering the autograph in my latest Bowman hobby box, collecting my favorite prospects, or for enjoying a well put together card design. I also love to ponder the legal aspects surrounding each card and series of cards.

Baseball cards, in fact all trading cards, are rich in legal issues. The card designs, the photographs of players, and the order and arrangement of the data on the back of the card are all protected by copyright law. The company and product names, the organizations associated with the cards (e.g., MLB, MLBPA, CLC, etc.), and the team names are subject to trademark protection. Players' uniforms are protected by trade dress (a variation of trademark). There are also rights in players' likenesses. The ever-increasing technology in cards, including methods of trading, selling and handling cards, in some instances are protected by patents. Not to mention, the contracts and licenses between the card manufacturers, teams, organizations and card distribution networks. Licenses even exist between the collector and trading card companies (e.g., for the use of the companies' websites and products).

With all of these legal issues, there's always room for questions and conflict.

What's not so well known is that with patents, copyrights, trademarks and lawsuits, a lot of information behind the making of cards is publicly available--if you know where to look for it.

In this column, I will explore these issues in the hopes that collectors can gain more enjoyment from their cards. In my job I eat, drink and live intellectual property law, so I will also try and provide primers on the differences between the legal issues. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people mix up copyrights, patents and trademarks. Also, I'll address legal issues in the industry as faced by the card companies and by collectors.

Finally, I would like to make this column interactive, so if there are any questions you have an interest in, drop me a line and it may become a future topic.

The information provided in Paul Lesko's “Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the “Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the “Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department ( Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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