ContestedFooty.com, an AFL commentary blog run by some university students in Melbourne, has received a Cease & Desist letter from the AFL. The AFL allege that the blog infringes their intellectual property rights - both the trademarks and the copyright in the AFL and team logos and names.
This appears to be another example of Australia's trademark laws being used to stifle legitimate commentary and critique. There certainly does not appear to be any source of confusion as to whether the bloggers are officially sanctioned by the AFL or the teams in question. The bloggers are not trading off the AFL's reputation, or representing some false connection with the league. Certainly the trademarks do not appear to be used as trademarks; the marks are plastered on the guernseys of the players - it's hard to show a picture of an AFL player without also showing the marks.
As for the copyright claims, these seem even weaker. We do have fair dealing for criticism and review and for the reporting of news, defences which the bloggers would seem to fit within without trouble. The bloggers say that their photos are original and that they're not reusing unlicensed photos.
If the AFL's demands are respected, this imposes a substantial chilling effect on speech. At its limits, it means that all commentary on AFL must either (a) not refer to specific teams or show pictures of players; or (b) negotiate (and pay for) a licence from the AFL - presumably also opening the possibility that the AFL will dictate the terms or even content of the commentary.
Luckily, sport plays a much bigger role in the Australian psyche than that. It is likely that the claims being made by the AFL are somewhat inflated at best. We hope that the operators of ContestedFooty.com are able to respond to the AFL and continue providing valuable critical commentary.
This cautionary tale, however, shows the importance of reasonable intellectual property laws. Nobody wants a situation where fans are unable to talk about their favourite sports, but our current laws encourage trademark owners to make these sorts of claims. Unfortunately, when made against bloggers and students, contesting these claims often becomes prohibitively expensive. I believe that both copyright and trademark law need to be simplified to provide clear space for this type of commentary, allowing bloggers and others to stand up for their rights.