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Court rules against EA in NCAA-athlete lawsuit

Above: NCAA Football 14 in action.

Image Credit: EA

Electronic Arts’s troubles with its NCAA football franchise continued today.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a 2 to 1 vote with a lower court ruling that EA improperly used the likenesses of several ex-NCAA athletes, according to NBC News. EA uses nameless characters in its NCAA Football games and in its now-defunct NCAA basketball titles.

The NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company, which represents many universities, were also named as defendants in this case.

The ruling claims that EA “literally re-creates [Arizona State University quarterback Samuel] Keller in the very setting in which he has achieved renown.” The publisher profits from those re-creations without providing any compensation to those players.

This decision could open the door for more former college athletes to sue EA for damages.

The Court of Appeals also upheld the dismissal of a suit filed by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, whose image EA used in a Madden game.

“We’re pleased with the outcome regarding Jim Brown’s likeness, but equally disappointed with the ruling against First Amendment protection in the Keller case,” an EA spokesperson told GamesBeat. “We believe the reasoning in Judge Thomas’ dissent in that decision will ultimately prevail as we seek further court review.”

This lawsuit is separate from the one brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon. He is directly suing the NCAA and claims that organization is unfairly profiting, although EA is also named in that case.

Electronic Arts could still appeal the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling and take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, but that judicial body would have to agree to hear the case. If EA appeals and the Supreme Court turns it down, the 9th Court ruling would stand.

Earlier this month, the NCAA announced it would not renew its contract with Electronic Arts for the NCAA Football series of games. That collegiate organization cited the “cost of litigation” as one of the reasons it was getting out of that business.

Following those events, EA revealed it would continue to make college football titles without the NCAA name. It will still have the full use of most college university names through a licensing agreement with the Collegiate Licensing Company.


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