College Athletes Can Now Sue EA Sports For Using Their Images In Video Games

08.01.13 5 years ago 13 Comments


While the sports world burns on a potential Alex Rodriguez lifetime ban and what ESPN was probably-maybe trying to do with its recent Johnny Manziel profile, the Ed O’Bannon class action suit against the NCAA just got juicier. Well, sort of.

According to the AP, Judge Jay Bybee of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that video game-maker Electronic Arts can’t invoke the First Amendment in defending its “NCAA Football” franchise against a 2009 suit filed by former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller. EA claims that its games were “works of art deserving of freedom of expression” and “newsgathering product[s] that restates statistical, biographical and other publicly available information.”

Bybee disagreed because, well, it’s kind of hard to not see Keller’s original contention: the game used Keller’s exact likeness without actually naming him.

Says Bybee, “Every real football player on each team included in the game has a corresponding avatar in the game with the player’s actual jersey number and virtually identical height, weight, build, skin tone, hair color, and home state.”


So Keller’s class action suit (which makes it possible to include and represent a lot of former and current student athletes like Keller) has been combined with O’Bannon’s against the NCAA, EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company.

Speaking of O’Bannon, a few weeks ago the whole suit ramped up when five current football players signed onto the suit: Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer, Arizona place kicker Jake Smith, Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham, Minnesota receiver Victor Kiese and Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate. What’s this mean? Let Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples explain it:

“If Wilken certifies a class that includes current and former players, the focus of the case would shift from the use of former players’ likenesses in video games and videos to the lucrative media rights deals between television networks, video game companies and the NCAA, conferences and schools. Potential damages could increase dramatically and the NCAA would be forced to defend its concept of amateurism in court.”

Which means the NCAA, as an institution, would be f*cked and college sports, as we know them, would change drastically.

O’Bannon’s lawsuit goes to trial next year.

Photo: Joystiq, Polygon

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