EA Sports settles college athlete likeness cases

BY foxsports • September 27, 2013

NEW YORK -- 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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