Football Manager Being Sued by Man United Over Club Name and Mods

Manchester United doesn’t seem to be too impressed with Football Manager.

SEGA and Sports Interactive are currently involved in a bit of a legal headbutting with Manchester United, a British footb…soccer club. Why? Apparently the game infringes the club’s name “extensively throughout the game” and that the use of an unlicensed team’s name is “wrongful” and as such, Manchester United is suing.

The English Premier League club also states that the official Manchester United crest is not used in the game, instead the club crest with a simple red and white striped logo is used. The club is claiming that by doing this, SEGA and Sports Interactive have infringed its trademark, claiming that this “deprives the registered proprietor of its right to have the club crest licensed”.

The club says that with Football Manager’s use of the team name, “consumers expect to see the club crest next to the name Manchester United … and this failure to do so amounts to wrongful use”.

Both SEGA and Sports Interactive fight back the allegations by stating that the use of the club’s name is “a legitimate reference to the Manchester United football team in a football context” and has been used in the Football Manager titles and Championship Manager since 1992 “without complaint by the claimant”. In addition, they have accused the club of trying to “prevent legitimate competition in the video games field by preventing parties not licensed by the claimant from using the name of the Manchester United football team within such games”

Manchester United’s barrister Simon Malynicz QC said, at a remote hearing last week said, that the argument toward wrongful use is “somewhat novel, and certainly in the context of video games, but it is certainly arguable”. He also asked if the club could amend its claim against SEGA and Sports Interactive to include allegations that involve “the practice of supplying ‘patches’ or ‘mods’, essentially downloadable files containing replica trademarks, which consumers then incorporate into the game”.

According to Malynicz, SEGA and Sports Interactive have “encouraged” these patches and mods and have “directly benefited from it by avoiding the need to take any license and enjoying increased sales of their game”.

Defending SEGA and Sports Interactive, Roger Wyand QC, stated that that logo the club refers to is “one of 14 generic logo templates that is randomly chosen by the Football Manager game engine each time a new game is started” and “clearly indicates that the use of the [logo of] Manchester United is not licensed by the claimant”.It was also said that preventing the companies from using the club’s name “would amount to an unreasonable restraint on the right to freedom of expression to restrain the use of the words ‘Manchester United’ to refer to a team in a computer game”.

Wyand also argues that  “copies of the game have also been sent by SI to a number of officials and players at the [club] for a number of years and there have been a number of positive press comments and tweets about the game by them”. To add to that, he claims that the staff at the club have been in touch with Sports Interactive on various occasions “asking for access to the Football Manager database for scouting and research purposes.”

The case is still ongoing and the judge has reserved judgment on Manchester United’s application to amend the claim to a later date.

Football Manager 2020 is the latest title in the series and is available for PC.

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