It’s difficult to make money as an artist, so it’s only natural to consider painting or drawing NFL players as a means to piggyback on football’s popularity and market your work. Although copyright laws don’t prevent you from painting professional football players, you’ll run into other intellectual property concerns with trademark laws and players’ right of publicity, that will likely prevent you from legally marketing your NFL-based artwork.

Right of Publicity and Likeness Rights

A person’s right of publicity gives him the exclusive right to commercially benefit from any use of his name, image or likeness. Because of this, selling any item with a NFL player depicted upon it, whether a painting or a T-shirt, without securing his permission to do so is in violation of his right of publicity. Right of publicity is a matter of state law, and varies around the country, with only 12 states – California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin – having right of publicity statutes. Other states established common law regulations that provide right of publicity.

Dead NFL Players

If you’re painting dead NFL players, you may have more room to use their images commercially in your art. Only a few states recognize that right of publicity and likeness rights may be passed from the person to their families after the player’s death. Consult state laws as well as those of the state in which the player died to determine if a dead NFL player’s likeness is still subject to right of publicity laws in your area.

Trademarks and the NFL

If you receive permission from a player to sell your drawings or paintings of him, you must still negotiate trademark law. The NFL and its member teams own trademarks on nearly every aspect of their team names, logos and uniforms. If you’re found guilty of infringing upon trademarks, you may be legally liable to reimburse the NFL for court costs, trademark licensure fees and your profits from selling the infringing artwork.

NFL Licensing

The NFL licenses its trademarks to companies that wish to produce branded products. To apply to become a licensee, you must have three years in commercial panting and distribution, have the ability to pay 100 percent of the royalty guarantee – which is about $100,000 per year – and hold at least to $6 million in insurance. To apply, you must submit an annual report, two years of audited financial statements for your art company, a product catalog and a credit reference from a bank or other lender.