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New Plaintiff Added To Class-Action Player Likeness Suit Against EA, NCAA

Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball has expanded a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA and Electronic Arts for using college players likenesses for commercial gain without permission.
Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball has expanded a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Electronic Arts for using college players likenesses for commercial gain without permission. The suit [PDF], originally filed in California last July on behalf of UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, now also includes former Tennessee Volunteer Bobby Maze as a named defendant, according to a report from Knoxville's Metro Pulse. On behalf of all NCAA division 1 football and basketball players, Maze and O'Bannon take issue with the fact that NCAA member schools' require them to sign away the rights to commercial use of their image in perpetuity, even after they graduate. The suit allege this "blatantly anticompetitive and exclusionary" practice violates antitrust statutes. "The NCAA, without advising its student-athletes, has taken ... purposefully ambiguous language as a license to develop an array of multi-media revenue streams for itself without providing any compensation whatsoever to the former athletes," the suit reads. Electronic Arts is noted as a "co-conspirator" in the suit, for illegally licensing the plaintiffs' images from the NCAA for its its college basketball and football games, specifically in those games' "Classic Teams" features. While the suit notes that specific player names are notably not used in these games, it points out that "all of EA Sports' NCAA-related video games use photographic-like realism in depiction of all aspects of [players'] visual presentation," and that "even uniquely identifiable idiosyncratic characteristics of real-life players appear in their video game virtual counterparts." The suit closely resembles another class-action filed last year by former Arizona State University Sam Keller over similar misuse of player likenesses. In that case, EA argued a first amendment right to base its game characters on real athletes, a right the judge eventually denied. The Keller case is still working its way through the courts. Last September, a judge dismissed another similar suit brought against EA by former NFL player Jim Brown, over a player with his likeness being used in the Madden games. A judge in that case agreed with EA's first amendment arguments.

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