EA Sports Settles College Likeness Case
NEW YORK (AP) — The NCAA is now on its own in the legal battle over whether athletes should share in the money made from the use of their likenesses.
Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Company have settled all lawsuits brought against the companies by former and current college athletes over the unauthorized use of the players’ images and likenesses in video games and other merchandise.
The NCAA is not part of the settlements, which includes the O’Bannon case. Brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, that lawsuit was asking for the NCAA, EA and CLC to share billions of dollars in revenues — including those made from massive television rights deals — with college athletes.
The settlement was submitted for approval to the U.S. District Court in Northern California and the terms were confidential.
“We learned of this notional settlement today,” said Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA. “We have asked for, but have not yet received, the terms so we cannot comment further.”
Remy told USA Today in a story posted earlier that the NCAA was prepared to take the O’Bannon case and others like it to the Supreme Court.
The other cases settled were brought by former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart, former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller and former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston.
“Today’s settlement is a game-changer because, for the first time, student-athletes suiting up to play this weekend are going to be paid for the use of their likenesses,” said Houston-based attorney Eugene Egdorf in a statement. Egdorf represents Hart, who sued EA Sports in 2009.
“We view this as the first step toward our ultimate goal of making sure all student-athletes can claim their fair share of the billions of dollars generated each year by college sports,” Egdorf said.
Seattle-based lawyer Steve Berman, who is the lead attorney on the Keller case, said that the settlement will allow attorneys to focus on claims against the NCAA.
“We hold that the NCAA intentionally looked the other way while EA commercialized the likenesses of students, and it did so because it knew that EA’s financial success meant a bigger royalty check to the NCAA,” Berman said in a statement.
It is against NCAA rules for college athletes to profit from their names, likenesses and popularity.
A judge in California is considering whether the O’Bannon case can become a class-action lawsuit. Other former college athletes who are plaintiffs in that case include basketball great Oscar Robertson. Earlier this year, the first current college football players were added to the O’Bannon complaint.
Michael Hausfeld, the lead attorney in the O’Bannon case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier Thursday, EA Sports announced it wouldn’t make a college football video game next year because of the ongoing legal issues.
Cam Weber, the company’s vice president for football, said in a statement on the EA Sports website that “the ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position.”
Weber adds that the Redwood City, Calif., company is “evaluating our plan for the future of the franchise.”
EA Sports began making an NCAA Football game in 1998. The company’s Madden football franchise, however, is more popular.
Weber likened EA’s use of athletes’ images in its games to “companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel.”
A July appeals court ruling said that EA can’t invoke the First Amendment to shield itself from the players’ lawsuit. EA had claimed that its games were works of art that deserve freedom-of-expression protection. But the court disagreed, ruling that the characters used in the games were exact replicas of individual players.
The Collegiate Licensing Company is used by college sports programs to sell their licensing rights to manufacturers such as EA.
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