Name, Image, and Likeness

Name, image, and likeness (“NIL”) refers to the personal attributes and commercial value associated with an individual’s identity and public persona. These attributes can be used in various ways for endorsement deals, merchandise licensing, advertising campaigns, appearances, social media promotions, and other commercial ventures. The value of an individual’s name, image, and likeness is often tied to their fame, achievements, talent, and public recognition. At a high level, the individual components here consist of …

Name: It represents an individual’s legal name, including their given name and surname. It is the unique identifier by which a person is recognized and distinguished.

Image: It encompasses an individual’s visual likeness or appearance, including their physical features, facial expressions, and other distinctive characteristics that make them recognizable to others. It includes photographs, illustrations, or representations of the person’s physical form.

Likeness: It refers to the overall representation of an individual’s identity, personality, and public image. It includes various aspects such as reputation, personal brand, distinctive traits, voice, gestures, mannerisms, and other qualities that contribute to their marketability and public appeal.

NIL Issues & Student Athletes

Issues in this space largely center on the use and commercial exploitation of an individual’s name, image, and personal brand, and primarily relate to athletes, celebrities, and other public figures who have a recognizable identity and market value associated with their persona.

Historically, athletes and other individuals have faced restrictions on profiting from their own name, image, and likeness due to amateurism rules, contractual agreements, and/or the control exerted by sports organizations and institutions. However, in recent years, there has been a significant shift in public opinion and legal frameworks regarding NIL rights for student athletes.

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), which governs college sports in the United States, has been a central focus of the NIL debate. In the past, NCAA rules prohibited college athletes from receiving compensation for their name, image, and likeness, as it was considered a violation of their amateur status. However, in response to growing pressure, legal challenges, and state legislation, the NCAA changed its rules in June 2021 to allow college athletes to profit from their NIL. In particular, the Division 1 Board of Directors approved an interim NIL policy that allows all NCAA D1, D2 and D3 student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL as of July 1, 2021, regardless of whether their state has a NIL law in place or not. 

According to the NCSA, “The NCAA NIL rules do not override state, college/university or conference specific NIL rules. This means student-athletes need to review the NIL rules in the state where their school is located and check with their athletic department for any school and conference-specific rules to understand what limitations they will have on their NIL. College student-athletes competing in states without an NIL law will have the freedom to receive compensation for their NIL however they see fit, as long as they do not violate pay-for-play or receive financial incentives to sign with or remain at a program.”