The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Friday to reject the claim by Cleveland-based ETW Corp., the golfer's licensing agent, against Jireh Publishing Inc.
Woods is board chairman of ETW, which claims the exclusive right to market his name, image, likeness and signature.
'We hold that, as a general rule, a person's image or likeness cannot function as a trademark,' Judge James Graham wrote in the majority opinion.
'ETW asks us, in effect, to constitute Woods himself as a walking, talking trademark.'
Lawyers for ETW did not return messages Friday.
Jireh Publishing, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., published the painting by Rick Rush, who has created paintings of such sports figures as Michael Jordan, Mark McGuire and Bear Bryant.
At issue was Rush's 1998 painting 'The Masters of Augusta,' which commemorated Woods' 1997 victory. Jireh produced limited-edition prints of the painting for sale.
The painting showed Woods in three golf poses with the Augusta National clubhouse in the background and likenesses of golf greats - including Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus - looking at Woods.
The court's decision upheld a ruling by a Cleveland federal judge in April 2000 against Woods. In a dissent Friday, Judge Eric Clay said he would have sent the case back to the Cleveland court for trial to let a jury decide. ETW had presented evidence that consumers might be confused about whether Woods was sponsoring the painting, Clay wrote.
'It is clear that the prints gain their commercial value by exploiting the fame and celebrity status that Woods has worked to achieve,' Clay wrote. 'The right of publicity is not outweighed by the right of free expression.'
The unions representing professional baseball and football players, plus the Screen Actors Guild, filed court briefs in support of Woods' claim. Time Inc., The New York Times Co., The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of Media Photographers filed briefs supporting Jireh.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.