Angelica Varona

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TikTok, the social media app, has become both a central force in entertainment, creating a slew of influencers and young celebrities, as well as an important tool in all things branding and marketing. Athletes have recognized the value of social media and fan engagement and have taken to becoming content-creators on the platform. The growing presence of professional athletes on the app brings up important issues of copyrightability and ownership of the content they are producing. This Comment considers the nature of athlete content-creation on TikTok as well as the employment scheme and contractual responsibilities that form a part of professional sports. It concludes that under the U.S. Copyright Act work for-hire provisions, this content belongs to the professional sports teams that employ the players. Professional athletes, employees of their respective teams, and parties to league collective bargaining agreements agree to engage with fans, the media, and the public at large as part of their employment responsibilities. Producing content is just one way of furthering this purpose. While the content the athletes produce in team facilities, while wearing team uniforms and logos or using official game footage belonging to their respective leagues, is more obviously within the scope of their employment, all the content athletes produce furthers the purpose for which they are contracted. The nature of professional sports as a business outside of what occurs on the field, stadium, court, rink, or diamond makes it so these works are classified as works-for-hire that ultimately belong to team owners. However, this ownership does not come without a cost, such as the possible loss of incentives to produce it or concerns about chilling speech or removing players’ abilities to speak out on important issues. These costs make it so professional teams should be conscious of players’ roles in creating the content. This Comment proposes professional teams leverage their ownership of this content in collective bargaining negotiations and ultimately give back some ownership to the athletes who actually produce and create the content.