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Ultimate Armwrestling League Flexes Its Legal Muscles over Use of Copyrighted Photo

The world of armwrestling has come a long way since the days of Lincoln Hawk (played by Sylvester Stallone) battling it out on the big stage in Las Vegas in the 1987 movie Over the Top. Multiple competitive armwrestling leagues now exist and the sport's popularity, both in viewer consumption and athlete participation, has steadily grown. Each league is similarly structured as a competitive armwrestling association consisting of set matches for monetary prizes.

In early April, one of the leagues, Ultimate Armwrestling League ("UAL"), brought suit against rival World Armwrestling League ("WAL") in California federal court complaining that WAL made unauthorized use of a copyrighted photograph of former UAL star Devon Larratt(Ultimate Armwrestling League LLC v. WAL Branding and Marketing LLCNo. 16-00642(C.D. Cal. filed Apr. 6, 2016)).

During his time with UAL, the league asserts that it paid for and published a photo of Larratt, labeled "Devon Larratt Double Bicep," on its Facebook page in August 2013, and later posted the image on its website. In the photo, Larratt can be seen flexing his biceps in front of a UAL-branded backdrop sporting a UAL jersey. Larratt has since moved on from UAL and now is contracted with UAL's main competitor, WAL.

As Larratt's popularity grew, and in an attempt to toproll the UAL, the WAL allegedly used an altered-though-substantially-similar version of this "Double Bicep" image in October 2015 during Larratt's appearance on ESPN's nationally broadcast original show SportsNation. The UAL's suit followed shortly thereafter. During the episode of SportsNation, UAL claims that the doctored "Double Bicep" photo could be seen prominently displayed in the background except that the image showed Larratt in a jersey labeled "SN" and the UAL backdrop had been replaced with a simple lightning bolt backdrop. UAL further alleges that the video of this SportsNation appearance, and thus the altered image, was subsequently posted on WAL's Facebook page.

In November 2015, UAL requested that WAL immediately cease and desist use of the image. Thereafter, in anticipation of litigation, UAL filed an application for copyright registration of the "Devon Larratt Double Bicep" photograph on February 1, 2016 and subsequently received a Certificate of Registration effective on said date (Registration Number: VA 1-988-410).

Going for the pin, UAL's complaint alleges that WAL's actions of copyright infringement were willful, intentional, and purposeful and thus is seeking damages, including the disgorgement of profits attributable to WAL's use of the image, as well as interest, costs and attorney's fees.

Judge Andrew Guilford has granted WAL two extensions to answer UAL's complaint before he determines whose legal arguments are actually stronger. With a response from WAL due by August 12, we'll soon know whether or not WAL has any leverage to counter the suit.

© 2019 Proskauer Rose LLP.

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L. Robert Batterman, Labor, Management, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm
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A partner since 1974, Bob Batterman has considerable experience representing both individual employers and multi-employer groups in union relations and collective bargaining. Much of Bob’s time is spent in day-to-day contact with clients, often in “crisis” situations where a rapid resolution of union-related problems is vital.

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Michael A. Cardozo is a Partner in Proskauer’s Litigation Department and the former Corporation Counsel for the City of New York. As the city's 77th and longest serving Corporation Counsel, he was the city’s chief legal officer, headed the city's Law Department of more than 700 lawyers, and served from 2002 through 2013 as legal counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, elected officials, the city and its agencies.

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