NCAA hit with new sports-sims likenesses suit

Collegiate sports organization taken to court over profiteering on former student athletes' images across a breadth of media, including EA Sports' games.

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In May, the National Collegiate Athletics Association, along with Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Company, was served with a class-action suit protesting the use of current-day student athletes in NCAA sports games. Now, a new suit is targetting the NCAA's continued use of former college stars across a variety of media, including stock footage, DVD sales, classic matchup rebroadcasts, and, yes, sports games.

Not-Blake Griffin posts up against not-Cole Aldrich.
Not-Blake Griffin posts up against not-Cole Aldrich.

Filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the complaint was issued by Hausfeld LLP on behalf of former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon, who led the Bruins to a National title in 1995, as well as "thousands of former NCAA Division I men's basketball and football players."

Specifically, the complaint alleges that, through the use of contracts that student athletes must sign to compete, the NCAA has deprived one-time college players from being paid for the use of their images and likenesses across any number of "revenue-generating formats." As noted in a Sports Illustrated analysis of the suit, O'Bannon's complaint specifically takes aim at the anticompete component of the NCAA's contracts and bylaws.

"Student-athletes, but for their authorization of the NCAA to license their images and likenesses, would be able to negotiate their own licensing deals after leaving college," said Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann, writing for SI. "If they could do so, more licenses would be sold, which would theoretically produce a more competitive market for those licenses."

"No one has a right to own or control another person’s image or likeness for eternity without providing fair compensation," said Hausfeld LLP chairman Michael D. Hausfeld. "Former student athletes should have a voice in how their own images or likenesses--once they are no longer students--are used throughout their lifetime."

The suit seeks to prevent the NCAA from continuing with its alleged anticompetitive practices, as well as protect student athletes from similar practices in the future. The suit also asks for damages for former Division I men's basketball and football players who have had their image or likeness used by the NCAA or any of its partners.

[UPDATE] Following the publication of this article, Electronic Arts commented on O'Bannon's suit, telling GameSpot: "While EA was not named as a defendant in this complaint, we do not believe violations of any current or former student-athlete rights or NCAA bylaws have occurred related to our products." The NCAA had not responded to requests for comment on the suit as of press time.

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