An American court has held that Rick Rush, an artist known worldwide for his paintings of great moments in sport, has prevailed in a lawsuit brought against him by the licensing company for Tiger Woods.
At issue was Rush’s painting of Woods’ victory at the Masters in 1997. The work depicts three poses of Woods against a background of the Augusta National Clubhouse. Also in the background are images of other legendary golfers, including Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer.
Rush was originally sued in Cleveland by ETW Corp., which handles all licensing and endorsement activities for Woods. ETW contended that the painting violated federal trademark law because the company claims exclusive rights to market Woods’ name, signature, and likeness.
Rick Rush, who is known internationally as “America’s sports artist,” has created many paintings that commemorate great moments in sport.
Woods and his organization, however, took issue with Rush’s 1998 painting “The Masters of Augusta” and sued to stop the sale of original limited edition serigraphs. ETW further demanded that Rush forfeit the proceeds from those sales. The original suit was heard by US District Judge Patricia Gaughan, who ruled against Woods and his licensing company.
The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Gaughan’s ruling. Writing for the majority, Judge James Graham stated, “ETW asks us, in effect, to constitute Woods himself as a walking, talking trademark.” The court maintained that “as a general rule, a person’s image or likeness cannot function as a trademark.”
“This is a huge victory for freedom of expression,” said the 56-year-old Rush, “and for the right of artists to paint the subjects of their choice.” Rush’s suit was supported with briefs filed by Time, Inc, The New York Times Co, the American Society of Media Photographers and others.
Rick Rush started his career in 1975. His original paintings can be seen in many public museums and on-line, through the “virtual gallery” of the Brilbeck Collection where collectors can view the works on line and buy them directly from the Collection’s web site.”
The Brilbeck Collection www.brilbeckcollection.com