EA, NCAA sued over sports-sim likenesses

Former Arizona State QB files class-action suit over publisher, organization's "conspiracy" to use college athletes' names, stats in annual football, basketball games.

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In November, a group of retired NFL players won a $28.1 million judgment against the National Football League Players Association related to the use of the former pros' names and likenesses in EA's annual Madden football simulation. The group's spokesperson went on to promise further litigation targeted at EA, and if and when that legal complaint materializes, it will join a suit lobbing similar complaints against NCAA Football.

That isn't Kristofer O'Dowd throwing a block for Mark Sanchez, if anyone's asking.
That isn't Kristofer O'Dowd throwing a block for Mark Sanchez, if anyone's asking.

Earlier this week, former Arizona State and University of Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller filed a class-action suit against Electronic Arts, the National Collegiate Athletics Association, and the Collegiate Licensing Company. In his suit, which extends to all relevant student athletes, Keller claims that EA, the NCAA, and the CLC are in cahoots to violate bylaws that prohibit the use of collegiate athletes' names and likenesses in the publisher's NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball sports sims.

"Despite clear prohibitions on the use of student names and likenesses in NCAA bylaws, contracts, and licensing agreements, Electronic Arts utilizes the likenesses of individual student-athletes in its NCAA basketball and football video games to increase sales and profits," reads the suit. "Electronic Arts also intentionally circumvents the prohibitions on utilizing student athletes' names in commercial ventures by allowing gamers to upload entire rosters, which include players' names and other information, directly into the game in a matter of seconds."

Keller's complaint notes that NCAA bylaw 12.5 "specifically prohibits the commercial licensing of an NCAA athlete's 'name, picture, or likeness,'" and that all Division 1 NCAA student athletes must sign a contract acknowledging the rule to be eligible to compete.

However, the suit claims that the NCAA is not honoring these rules and that it continues to sign off on games produced by EA that strive to be as realistic as possible. "With rare exception, virtually every real-life Division I football or basketball player in the NCAA has a corresponding player in Electronic Arts' games with the same jersey number, and virtually identical height, weight, build, and home state. In addition, Electronic Arts matches the player's skin tone, hair color, and often even a player's hair style."

In particular, Keller's suit called out Kent State running back Eugene Jarvis. "Eugene Jarvis, for example, stands a mere 5'5" and weighs only 170 pounds. He is also an African-American red-shirt junior from Pennsylvania who wears number 6 for the Golden Flashes. And although he is extremely talented, Mr. Jarvis is unusually small for a college football player. For these reason, one would expect a randomly generated virtual running back for the Golden Flashes to be somewhat dissimilar to Mr. Jarvis."

The suit goes on to note that Number 6 for the Golden Flashes in NCAA Football 2009 perfectly matches Jarvis' real-life information. Keller's complaint goes on to note several other such occurrences in the game, and the many ways in which those who play EA's game can input specific character traits of real-world players into the NCAA games.

Keller is seeking to block the future use of players' names and likenesses. The suit also seeks monetary damages, the disgorgement of all earnings related to the previous games, as well as the destruction of all infringing games in EA or third parties' possession.

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