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Mohamed Salah image rights dispute: Q & A behind the Liverpool ace's clash

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Mohamed Salah's claim that he was deeply insulted by an image rights dispute in his native Egypt prompted top-level political intervention to swiftly resolve the issue.

Salah had been upset that his image is featured prominently on the outside of the Egypt national team's plane, which was provided by official team sponsor WE. Salah has a sponsorship deal with rival telecommunications firm Vodafone.

Here, sports lawyer Ross Brown from Onside Law discusses the case and the surrounding issues.

What are image rights and why is Salah objecting to the use of his image?

An image right is a right relating to the specific characteristics of an individual.

The name and image of that player are the most obvious, but image rights also cover anything unique to that individual -- such as a signature or their nickname.

Players, particularly top players, and clubs will seek to exploit that image for commercial gain.

Salah objected to the use of his image for two reasons -- firstly, he believed his image had been used without his permission but secondly that the usage also cut across commercial arrangements that he already had in place.

Surely the Egyptian FA has the right to use an image of its star player?

Possibly. It is common for national associations to have an arrangement with players in its national squad whereby they have certain rights regarding the use of the image of those players. It is logical given the national association will want to promote the national team. Using the image of its star player is the obvious way to do it.

However, it is not known whether the Egyptian FA have any arrangement of this sort with Salah. They did not try and assert such a right, preferring instead to agree to Salah's wishes.

Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo are two star players whose image rights are owned by a third-party company. Is that practice commonplace, and when did it first emerge?

This is a common practice and first emerged during the 1990s with the creation of the Premier League.

Top players, who have an image with a commercial value, will often set up an image rights company to control the use made of their image.

The playing contract gives the club basic use of the player's image. However, the club will pay the image rights company an additional fee for an enhanced use of the player's image as well as paying that player a salary -- for example, if the club is to pay a player £5 million-a-year they may do so by paying £4m in salary for their playing services and a £1m payment to the image rights company for an enhanced use of the player's image. The amounts can vary depending on the value of the image of the player.

What are the rules and/or laws controlling the use of image rights by a player, club or brand in the UK?

There is actually no direct legal right that protects a player's image.

Instead, any player wishing to protect their image may use various other legal mechanisms depending on the relevant circumstances -- claims for damage to reputation, breaches of regulatory codes or passing off (being the exploitation of goodwill in the image of the player) may all have been potential options for Salah in respect of any unauthorised use in the UK.

The club or another commercial partner's right to an image will be protected through the relevant contractual arrangements with the player.

Are there other examples of high-profile footballers disputing the use of their own image rights? Did any case set the precedent for the current rules?

The most high-profile example is a case involving Arsenal, Denis Bergkamp and David Platt on one side and HMRC on the other.

HMRC challenged the tax benefits obtained by the club and players following Arsenal signing them in 1995. However, in 2000, HMRC lost the case as the image rights structures in place were declared legitimate by a tribunal (though this related to a standard type of structure -- HMRC will still challenge some image rights arrangements). This led to the arrangements we see today.

Outside of football, Eddie Irvine, the former F1 driver, successfully sued radio station talkSPORT for the unauthorised use of his image in a high-profile claim.

How big a factor can personal image rights play in the negations of a transfer or new contract for a global star footballer?

They can play a significant one given the potential commercial gain that a player's image can offer.

There are numerous examples of the popularity of a player leading to increased sales of commercial merchandise which, in turn, repays the club's transfer fee for that player.

In Salah's case, for example, his on-field success may translate into a new wave of Liverpool fans in Egypt. In a similar way, top players at the end of their careers can often be attractive to clubs in China or the USA who are looking to build up their footballing brands.

As a result, image rights will be a key part of the negotiations between a player and a club who wants to buy them. The ability of the player on the pitch is not the only reason for a potential purchase.

What are the key moments in how the use of a footballer's image rights developed over the years -- i.e. from the first occasions of a player monetising their own image to every top player now controlling them as a matter of course?

The Bergkamp and Platt case was a key moment since it saw the standard image rights structure become accepted.

Beyond that the key moments are really the increased development of the commercial power that a top player can generate for themselves and their clubs -- so any huge transfer redefines what is possible.

David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid are good examples. Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain is the most recent one although his transfer sum will really test just how important a player's image can be.