Trademarks, “Fair Use”, Digital Ownership, And Unionizing e-Sports – An Interview With Ryan Morrison, Esq.

Monday, March 14th, 2016

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OR: What are e-Sports and how does the realm of law fit into this growing field of entertainment?

RM: E-Sports are competitive video games. They’re played on a very high level right now [and] are making as much as money as most other major sports. Obviously not quite NFL-level, but they are selling out Madison Square Garden and they’re doing a lot of things no one really saw coming. ESPN just dedicated an entire channel to them.

So they’re growing very quickly and they’re under all the same laws as normal athletes. The contracts between [the athletes] and the leagues are very important, they want to trademark their own names and stage names, they just want to protect them[selves] throughout the whole process. Same with the teams, they want to protect themselves. And we’re seeing more formal league structure set up and we’re seeing a more legitimized version of e-Sports.

OR: With some of these e-Sports, particularly League Of Legends Championship Series, there’s a lot of money on the table. The 2015 League Of Legends Championship in fact paid out two-million dollars in prize pool money. With a lot of money comes a lot of teams and a lot of players for these teams. What do you think are some of the biggest upcoming legal issues that e-Sports will have to face in the coming years?

RM: It’s going to be mostly what I ran though. It’s going to have to be legitimized. We’re gonna have to look at an actual union for the players. We’re going to have to collectively bargain with an actual league. Right now, it’s kind of a ‘wild west’. There’s a million leagues and a million players and a million teams and no one really knows who’s in charge of what. League Of Legends is more hands-on than the other games, but that doesn’t mean that they’re hands on enough, maybe they’re too hands-off. But some league structure and some more rigidness needs to be put in there. Otherwise we’re going to see players not paid and things like that.

OR: You mentioned unions a moment ago. Do you feel like unions are inevitable in this sport? Would they be structured akin to like [those] in the NFL, MLB, or the NHL?

RM: Yeah, I represent players. That’s certainly what I want to see happen.

OR: Do you think these players that play for these teams should be considered independent contractors or employees of their team?

RM: No, I don’t think that’s there’s question that they’re an employee under any jurisdiction. An independent contractor is someone you hire to do a job and they do it on their own pace and in their own way with their own utilities and things like that. And here, we see people being moved into gaming houses, being given very rigid training schedules, being told what and when to stream and when not to stream, that they can’t compete or work with others teams, and things like that.

Every factor of every test in every jurisdiction that I’ve seen – these players are employees.

OR: As far as you know, has any court ruled on if one of these players for one of these competitive teams is in fact an employee?

RM: No, not as far as I know.

OR: Alright, thank you for talking with me!

RM: No problem, it was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.



All images were provided courtesy of, and are the property of, Ryan Morrison, Esq.. They are used here with permission.

Have you ever had a video taken down due to copyright? How do you feel about unionizing e-Sports? Sound off in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it. Do you want to do an interview? You can reach me at interviews@oprainfall.com


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