Regardless of where you stand on the pay-the-athletes issue, this was always kind of a head-scratcher: Video game developers have been allowed to directly profit off amateur athletes' likenesses, but amateur athletes can't say the same. A college sports game can use a player's height, weight, build, skin tone, hair color, and jersey number—but turn around and say that the avatar is actually someone completely different, absolving the responsibilty of paying the player. It's always been a grey area legally. And a shitty deal for the athletes.
Those days are probably done. Not only have we probably seen the last of NCAA Football as we know it, we may soon see a deluge of lawsuits hit EA, and later the NCAA, from disgruntled former players.
A federal appeals court ruled today in favor of a lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon and Sun Devil quarterback Sam Keller. The ruling will allow former players to sue Electronic Arts for unfairly using their images without compensation. From the AP:
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Redwood City, Calif., company can't invoke the 1st Amendment to shield it from the players' lawsuit.
The company had claimed its college-based sports games were works of arts deserving freedom of expression protection.
The court disagreed, ruling the avatars used in the company's basketball and football games were exact replicas of individual players. The court concluded that the company did little to transform the avatars into works of art and said EA's NCAA Football game was too realistic to be considered a new art form.
And cue the class-action lawyers in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...