Congratulations, Paul:

The estate of legendary sports announcer John Facenda has scored another major victory in its court battle with NFL Films that centers on whether Facenda’s distinctive voice — known in football circles as the "Voice of God" — was improperly used in a promotional film for a John Madden video game.

In its 60-page opinion in Facenda v. NFL Films Inc., a unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that NFL Films violated Pennsylvania’s "right of publicity" statute.

Now the only issue left to be decided on that claim is how much Facenda’s estate should be awarded in damages.

The panel rejected NFL Films’ argument that the "standard release" contract Facenda signed was a "complete defense," noting that while the release gave the NFL the right to use Facenda’s voice in future film projects, it also explicitly prohibited any use that would "constitute an endorsement" of any product.

"Facenda consented to participation in films documenting NFL games, not an advertisement for a football video game," 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote in an opinion joined by Judges Michael A. Chagares and Robert E. Cowen.

The NFL’s lawyer, Bruce P. Keller of Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, argued that the 22-minute film, titled "The Making of Madden," was a documentary and was therefore a work of artistic expression entitled to First Amendment protection.

But Paul A. Lauricella of The Beasley Firm, who represented John Facenda Jr., argued that the film was nothing more than an "infomercial" for the video game "Madden NFL 06," and was therefore purely commercial speech.

In the lower court, Hart sided with Lauricella and concluded that the film was not a documentary because it "lacks the journalistic independence typical of the maker of a documentary" and because NFL Films had a "direct financial interest" in the success of the video game.

Ambro agreed with Hart, saying "like an infomercial, the program focuses on one product, explaining both how it works and the source of its innovations, all in a positive tone."

As a result, Ambro concluded that the NFL’s First Amendment defense failed.

Although "commercial speech does receive some First Amendment protection," Ambro said, the Lanham Act "customarily avoids violating the First Amendment, in part by enforcing a trademark only when consumers are likely to be misled or confused by the alleged infringer’s use," he wrote.

Opinion’s worth the read if you’re in the copyright, right of publicity, or misleading advertising fields. The NFL ran the full gambit of defenses, from preemption to "actual confusion," and lost on all of them.*

* Technically, the Third Circuit moved one issue back from summary judgment to the jury. Here in plaintiff’s land, when something goes to the jury, we call it a win.