EA tackled by more sports license suits

Browns superfan, former UNC football player, and boxers' association have publisher on defense regarding Madden NFL, NCAA games, and Fight Night Round 4.

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Former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown's suit against Electronic Arts over his unnamed likeness appearing in Madden NFL games has been dismissed, but the publisher's courtroom battles are by no means over. In the past three months, three new likeness lawsuits concerning the publisher's various sports games have hit courts around the country.

"If it pleases the court, may I suggest a 10-minute recess so I can go walkies?"

Brown isn't the only Cleveland sports icon taking issue with Electronic Arts' Madden NFL franchise. In July, John Big Dawg Thompson (yes, that's his legal name), the mask-wearing pack leader of Cleveland's Dawg Pound, filed a complaint against EA in the Cuyahoga Country Court of Common Pleas seeking restitution for the alleged unauthorized and unlicensed use of his Big Dawg persona in Madden NFL 09.

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's inaugural Hall of Fans class in 1999, the Big Dawg character sports a bug-eyed dogface mask, orange hardhat, oversize dog bone, and a Browns jersey with the number "98." A similarly outfitted fan wearing a "92" jersey can be seen in Madden NFL 09 in the same section of the Cleveland Browns' stadium where Thompson appears during the team's home games. Thompson is seeking damages in excess of $25,000 and that EA be prevented from selling the game or using the Big Dawg character without permission in the future.

While Thompson has the publisher in court over its pro football sim, EA Sports' NCAA basketball and football games have drawn another suit. Earlier this month, former University of North Carolina left guard Bryon Bishop filed suit against EA, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its licensing arm.

Bishop, who is seeking class-action status for his suit, claims that the trio has conspired to violate the NCAA's own by-laws prohibiting the for-profit use of amateur athletes by including likenesses--but not names--of current athletes in its NCAA-branded games. In those games, players only bear a number corresponding to an actual student athlete and are typically given the same height, weight, skin color, hairstyle, and home state as their real-life counterparts.

The suit seeks damages for all amateur athletes whose likenesses have been included as such in EA's NCAA games, as well as for the games publisher and its partners to give up all profits garnered from those titles. A similar suit was filed in May by former Arizona State and University of Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller.

Fight Night Round 4 has spawned disputes both in and out of the ring.
Fight Night Round 4 has spawned disputes both in and out of the ring.

Finally, EA is facing a suit filed earlier this month by sports management company Fighters, Inc. Founded in 2007, Fighters, Inc. is a group licensing organization with a goal to be for boxing what official players associations are for other sports. The company is suing EA over Fight Night Round 4, claiming the publisher included clients like Kelly Pavlik, Jorge Arce, and Fernando Montiel in violation of exclusive group licensing agreements they had signed with Fighters, Inc.

The licensing group further claims that EA willfully violated the deals with its boxers, and continued to do so after Fight Night Round 4's release, pursuing fighters like Andre Berto and Andre Ward for downloadable content updates for the game. Fighters, Inc. is seeking at least $25 million in actual damages, with punitive and statutory awards on top.

EA declined to address any of the three cases, saying it had no comment on pending litigation.

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