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Are Fake Football Shirts Infringing Football Clubs’ Intellectual Property?

20th May 2024 by Tiff Elmer

Categories: What's New?

Football is a global phenomenon, attracting millions of fans to stadiums every week. Even Hollywood celebrities are getting involved! As a result, the sales of football merchandise have skyrocketed over the years. Iconic football clubs have been making significant profits from the sale of merchandise, including football shirts. However, the rise of counterfeit football shirts has left many football clubs questioning whether their intellectual property (IP) rights are being infringed upon. In this article, we delve deeper into this complex area of the law and explore whether fake football shirts are indeed infringing on football clubs’ IP.

Football clubs invest substantial amounts of money and time into developing their IP. Any replica football shirts that use their trade mark (typically their name and/or crest) without permission are infringing on their rights. If a club’s trade mark has been infringed upon, they have the right to pursue legal action against the counterfeiters, including criminal action, which is recognised in most countries.

For the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Intellectual Property Office ran an educational campaign to raise awareness about the harm counterfeits pose to the football community, consumers, and the broader UK economy. This initiative aimed to combat intellectual property crime.

In a significant effort, officers seized over £500,000 worth of counterfeit football shirts across the UK in the months leading up to the World Cup. Six people were arrested for the distribution and sale of counterfeit goods, £12,000 worth of items were seized, and at East Midlands Airport, over 18,000 shirts were confiscated.

These efforts were part of just one campaign in the UK over a few months leading up to the World Cup, but it raises the question: given the prevalence of counterfeit shirts, is there a substantial market for them? Some argue that where there is a demand for a brand, there is an ever-increasing demand for counterfeit products. Consider the widespread presence of counterfeit Gucci handbags and Ray-Ban sunglasses. However, it’s important to note that items combining a football club’s brand with individual touches may be permitted under certain circumstances.

So why isn’t this issue more controlled, and do we really know what goes on behind the scenes? The rise of the internet has made it easier for people to copy brands and sell counterfeit products, and controlling this has become more challenging than ever. This trend is significantly impacting brands’ sales because the quality of counterfeits is improving, and individuals are often willing to spend less for a convincing knockoff.

Despite what might seem like a new normal, there is no question that replica football shirts (or any counterfeit product) infringing IP rights is illegal. It is up to the authorities to take action. This is certainly an area to watch closely as it continues to evolve.

If you would like to discuss how to protect your brand further or require additional information, please contact Tiff Elmer at or call 01202 377 814

Tiff Elmer

Solicitor — Corporate and Commercial

Direct dial: 01202 377814


Tiff joined Laceys in July 2021 as a paralegal and qualified as a Solicitor in 2023 deciding to specialise in Corporate and Commercial law. Tiff has relocated back home to Bournemouth after living in Bristol for four years where she completed her LPC at the University of Law, and worked in a large commercial law firm as a trade mark paralegal. Before moving to Bristol, Tiff completed her Law LLB Hons degree at Southampton Solent University in 2016 graduating with a 1st.

Tiff has particular experience in intellectual property law and assists her team to advise a range of businesses in various sectors in relation to intellectual property matters and commercial contracts, and is enjoying expanding her knowledge and skills within the commercial field. 

Outside of work Tiff enjoys being outdoors by going for long runs, hikes and paddle boarding around the beautiful South Coast with family and friends.

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