The Omni's Godzilla-Sized Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl Promo Is Now Haunting the NFL

Thanks in large part to a series of freak snow-and-ice storms leading up to the game, North Texas made a shambles of its first ever Super Bowl-hosting opportunity in February 2011. Canceled flights, snarled traffic, an overbooked stadium, sheets of ice falling from the roof of Cowboys Stadium -- it all combined to make for a less-than-pleasant experience.

Not that everything was a disaster. The Godzilla-sized portraits of Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu that were plastered on the side of the brand-new Dallas Omni, for example, were executed without any issues. Or so it seemed at the time.

Now, even that minor victory is being called into question. David Stluka, the Wisconsin-based photographer who originally snapped the pic of Rodgers, shown gazing down-field as he scrambles out of the pocket, is suing the NFL for copyright infringement.

The federal lawsuit, filed in New York, is broader than the Rodgers case. Stluka is joined in his suit by six other professional sports photographers who say the NFL, along with the Associated Press and Getty Images, are engaged in "rampant, willful, and continued misuse" of their photos in ad campaigns, on, and in other contexts, most of which do not cover the entire facade of a large urban hotel.

The Atlantic provides some context:

The origins of the case date back to 2003 when the NFL disbanded its Photographic Services Division, formerly known as NFL Photos. Created in 1965, NFL Photos was a crew of freelancers that worked "on spec," meaning they earned a percentage from each photo they sold rather than hourly wages or a salary. Unlike the video footage recorded by NFL Films, where the league owns all the rights, photos shot during games and practices were copyrighted property that belonged to the photographers.

After shuttering NFL Photos, the league sought bids from outside agencies for the exclusive rights to their commercial photo licenses. Getty Images won the contract and proceeded to hire several longtime NFL Photos shooters to continue working "on spec." When a company such as Gatorade wanted to put Peyton Manning on a billboard in Times Square, for example, they now had to go through Getty for the image, which then paid a significant percentage to the original photographer. When the NFL put the commercial licensing contract up for grabs again in 2009, though, the AP outbid Getty. That left the seven photographers in a bind, since Getty also maintained exclusive agreements with MLB, the NCAA, and other sports leagues. Getty still had the ability to license NFL photos for newspapers and other "editorial" purposes, but those are significantly less valuable than commercial deals.

Things got ugly, according the lawsuit, when the photographers opted to abandon Getty for the AP. First, Getty allegedly blackballed them from shooting anything except NFL for the AP. The photographers say the NFL then convinced AP to grant the league "complimentary" access to their photo archives, meaning the League could use virtually any copyrighted photo for free. The lawsuit includes hundreds of pages of screenshots from with photos by Stluka and his colleagues that were allegedly published without their knowledge or permission. Most of these appear to be quotidian galleries documenting mini-camps and preseason games, but a several are quite recognizable, such as a shot of Saints quarterback Drew Brees triumphantly clutching the Lombardi Trophy surrounded by falling confetti.

What, if anything, the NFL owes these photographers is up to a court to decide. But doing some quick, back-of-the-napkin guesstimation, if an ordinary-sized photo costs, say, $500, then a 23-story portrait should fetch in the ballpark of $1 billion. We're pretty sure that's how these things work.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson