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Rocky Balboa’s Boxing Gloves Stir Threats of Litigation

By Bryanna Fissori
Legal Analyst

Both diehard boxing fans and casual movie goers alike can attest to the notoriety and influence of the movie “Rocky” as an inspiration to the sport. Earlier this month an important piece of that legacy became a center of dispute.

The pair of gloves supposedly used in the original “Rocky” movie were set to hit the auction block sometime in May 2011. The memorabilia dealer organizing the event is Profiles In History (PIH) and the location of the event is Hollywood, California.

PIH has advertised that in the upcoming auction their bidders can expect to see “Sylvester Stallone’s boxing gloves from the first “Rocky”. . . amongst many other classic and memorable items.” Unfortunately for PIH, since hearing about the auction items, Stallone has adamantly asserted that the gloves are not authentic, and he is not happy about it. Interestingly enough there has been no public notification as to how Stallone is sure those are not the real gloves. Though, like any normal guy, his mom probably has them stored in the cedar chest next to his baby blanket and high school diploma.

In protest to the auction of the items he believes to be inauthentic, Stallone’s legal counsel has issued a cease and desist letter to PIH asserting grounds for substantial liability arising from commercial exploitation and false adverting should PIH proceed with the sale of the gloves.

The first claim of commercial exploitation arises from the use of Stallone’s name in conjunction with the unauthentic items under the California Unfair Competition Law, which is a part of the California Business and Professional Code. The right violated is called the “Right of Publicity” and prevents unauthorized commercial use of an individual’s name, likeness or persona. To help make the concept relevant to the real world of boxing; typically when a professional fighter signs on with a promotional company, that company will have an ancillary rights agreement which grants them the “Right of Publicity.” The right must be validly assigned by the individual to avoid legal ramification upon use of the fighter’s name, etc. for promotions.

Only about half of the states in the U.S. recognize the right as separate from the “Right of Privacy.” One of the main differences is that the privacy rule is often used in conjunction with defamation cases whereas the publicity rule does not necessitate or confuse any defamatory elements. California is a publicity rights recognizing state and because the auction is being held in California, Stallone’s legal counsel would have the ability to file suit in California jurisdiction if necessary. The violation has the ability result in a number of damages including compensatory, punitive, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees.

The cease and desist letter also warns that the information published in the auction catalog is false and misleading. Stallone is demanding that everyone who received the information is informed about the inaccuracy. That means everyone who got a catalog gets a letter about the inaccuracy, and everywhere that an ad was placed receives another ad correcting the mistake.

Stallone is also requesting that PIH inform him and his legal counsel of where they received their information about the gloves. It is clear that they plan to confront the third party for their involvement in “attempting to profit from the commercial exploitation of inauthentic items . . . ,” as stated in the letter. Perhaps said third party should be thinking less about the gloves and focus more on finding some authentic headgear. Just saying.

Just in case representatives at PIH were not sufficiently intimidated, the letter concluded by stating, “Be advised that if you continue to commercially exploit my client’s highly recognizable name in order to attract attention to your business and your upcoming auction, you do so at your peril. . .” The reference was to legal peril, but likely carried a similar tone to mortal peril coming from a representative of “The Italian Stallion.” In any case, PIH has opted to take the safe route and pull the item from the auction block, though they still contend their confidence that the gloves are the real deal and state that they are doing further research before making them available to bidders.

On a positive note you can still place your bid for Robin’s batcycle go-cart from the original Batman TV show. Score!

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