Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is threatening to sue Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 publisher Konami, alleging that the company used his likeness in the game without obtaining his consent.
“I heard yesterday that the Japanese company Konami uses my image for its game PES 2017,” Maradona said in a note posted March 30 on his official Facebook page. He added that his lawyer will “initiate the corresponding legal actions.”
The message was accompanied by a screenshot of Maradona in PES 2017 at the top of a list of soccer greats — both past and present — such as Lionel Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. The in-game version of Maradona represents him in his prime, with a full head of hair like he had in the early 1980s. These legends are available in MyClub, the franchise mode in PES 2017. The game was released in mid-September 2016 on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Maradona’s attorney, Matias Morla, echoed the allegations in a strongly worded tweet that also included the screenshot yesterday afternoon.
“[PES 2017] used in an illegal way the figure and name of Maradona,” said Morla, adding, “we will take action against Konami with everything!”
Morla also reiterated his client’s case in a response to a Twitter user who had defended Konami. The individual replied to Morla’s original tweet, saying it was safe to assume Konami had licensed Maradona’s likeness for PES 2017 because the company “would not be so dumb as to put a player [in the game] without having his authorization.”
“There is nothing signed,” said Morla. “[Konami] does not have authorization.”
It’s unclear if Morla has yet filed a lawsuit against Konami on Maradona’s behalf; we’ve asked his office for further details, and are awaiting a response.
Licensing is a big issue for sports video games that use real-life players. Current athletes in a team sport are usually covered by a group license through a deal between a league — or its players union — and a video game publisher. But for retired players, or individual sports like golf and tennis, game makers often must go out and negotiate agreements with each athlete they want in their game.
If Maradona indeed files a lawsuit against Konami, he wouldn’t be the first athlete to do so in a case like this. NFL legend Jim Brown sued Madden NFL publisher Electronic Arts in 2008 over the company’s practice of putting all-time great football teams — including Brown’s 1964 Cleveland Browns — in the Madden games. Last year, EA paid him $600,000 in a settlement of that lawsuit.
We’ve reached out to Konami for comment, and will update this article with any information we receive.
Update (April 3): Konami’s Japan headquarters (via Kotaku) issued a statement saying that its use of Maradona and other players in Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 is within the terms of its licensing agreements.