May 17, 2012

Tim Tebow’s faith is always at the fore-front of his life. Whether it be in a press conference, on the field, or just in day-to-day life…Tebow is a fierce believer in Jesus.

But, a new lawsuit seems to portray Tim as Jesus.

Tebow’s attorneys at Ziffren Brittenham, LLP — a Los Angeles based law firm — have sent a cease-and-desist letter (via TMZ) to the t-shirt website, Cubby Tees, which claims that the website is illegally using Tebow’s name for the company’s own commercial gain.

“As you know, Mr. Tebow has not granted Cubby Tees any rights to use his name or likeness in any manner. By promoting, advertising and selling the Merchandise, not only has Cubby Tees used Mr. Tebow’s name to promote Cubby Tees, but the Merchandise makes it appear as if Mr. Tebow’s actually endorses Cubby Tees and its products…Consequently, Cubby Tee’s use of his name in and in connection with the Merchandise for their Website or otherwise, without permission constitutes unfair competition, unlawful misappropriation of name and/or likeness, deceptive trade practices, and a violation of Mr. Tebow’s rights of publicty and privacy…”

That all sounds like the standard legal fare for a cease-and-desist letter. “I caught you making money off of my name. Stop right now or I’ll sue you, etc.” The problem? The t-shirts in question don’t contain Tebow’s likeness or his actual name. The shirts parody the NY Jets logo and spell out “MY Jesus”. Furthermore, the site has a clear disclaimer stating that Tebow in no way endorses the jersey — a main point of contention in the-cease and-desist letter,

This fun design is not officially endorsed by New York’s backup quarterback or the Son of God, but plays off the themes of Tebow’s faith and his new team – borrowing from the J-E-T-S to promote J-E-S-U-S, with a fish for a football, and “MY” replacing “NY” with a color scheme that will be familiar to Jets fans. We don’t take sides on the field or in the hereafter — we just try to make fans happy, and this shirt should fit Tebow followers to a tee. It’s available in green, white or grey in sizes small through 4XL. (Other colors/sizes/styles available on request) (via Cubby Tees)

If Tebow’s legal team does decide to take the case to court — Cubby Tees has already responded to the letter, and has decided to not remove the shirts — they have a long road ahead of them. Copyright law would generally protect Cubby Tee’s usage of Tebow’s name and likeness in an instance where they’ve created an entertaining or artistic work that is transformative — i.e. a creative element is added so that its more than just a depiction of the person’s name or likeness. A parody t-shirt would seemingly fit that description. On top of that defense, Tebow’s team may have quite a tough time proving that Tebow’s name or likeness is even being utilized in the first place.

To note, Cubby Tees also has parodied t-shirts of other sports superstars including the Detroit Tigers’ Prince Fielder and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Albert Pujols. To the best of my knowledge, they have not sent a cease-and-desist to Cubby Tees.

hat tip to TerezOwens and TMZ.

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