The antitrust class action lawsuit led by Ed O´Bannon against video games publisher Electronics Arts (EA), the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), and the NCAA scored a victory today. Both EA and the CLC have agreed settlements with O´Bannon over the use of player’s names and likenesses in the popular NCAA college Basketball games published by EA. The agreement means that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the last remaining defendant in the case.
Ed O´Bannon is a retired former NBA power forward who also played extensively in Europe. He has been seeking damages for thousands of college players who have had their likenesses depicted in EA´s popular NCAA game series, and O´Bannon´s case mirrors a similar action taken against EA for its college football game franchise.
The settlement will now have to be approved by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, but it is widely accepted that she will do so. Wilken has previously pleaded with all parties to reach an out of court agreement, so a settlement is likely to be viewed as good news to her. The only stumbling block could be the terms of the settlement, which could be complicated thanks to the sheer amount of players the action represents.
For example it will need to be made clear which players are entitled to a payout and which players should get more compensation than others. Determining factors such as this, or when players get their payments (now or when they leave college) could stall an approval, but it is thought that aby kinks in the paperwork of the settlement can be ironed out.
Since the terms of the settlement have not been made public, any idea of what the amount to be handed out or how it will be handed out is purely speculation. As the case was brought by Ed O´Bannon, any players due to claim compensation could opt out and instead pursue their own legal route to sue EA. However, it is thought this will not happen as the legal costs and years of wrangling in courts would deter further cases occurring.
Ed O´Bannon or any of his representatives declined to comment on the ruling, while the CLC has also decided not to address the settlement. Electronic Arts did not mention the settlement directly, but did say that much of the content in its games was at the direction of the NCAA, hinting that it is the NCAA that had control in the project. The world´s largest game company suggested that it would now end the NCAA game franchise (the license was not renewed in the spring), much like it has done with its popular college football series.
“Just like companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel, we follow rules that are set by the NCAA — but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes.
The ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position — one that challenges our ability to deliver an authentic sports experience, which is the very foundation of EA Sports games.”
The NCAA, which has been accused of looking the other way while EA used likenesses and names of players is now the only remaining defendant. The organization has said it will continue to fight in the courts and would be willing to take to the case to the Supreme Court. As a show of intent the NCAA has hired new trial and appeal attorneys in a bid to win the case. However, some sources close to the case say the NCAA is merely playing hardball in public and behind closed doors is looking for a non-trial solution to the case.