The Electronic Arts legal team won’t be resting their starters anytime soon.
A California federal judge has denied a motion by the mega-publisher/developer to strike down a lawsuit filed against them by a group of retired National Football League players, who allege that Electronic Arts applied their likenesses in Madden NFL 09’s “historic teams” without sanction.
The ruling ensures the continuation of the case – filed in 2010 by a group purporting to represent more than 6000 retired NFL players – which accuses Electronic Arts of intentionally using recognizable player likeliness in a “calculated and underhanded attempt” to defer paying them. The case now advances to seek class action status, essentially the final step before a verdict is brought to bear.
It’s a behind-the-scenes blow for EA, who originally tried to cite First Amendment rights as justification for replicating vital stats, positions, and physical features of notable players while swapping their real names with generic ones. (If the argument sounds familiar, it’s because EA is embroiled in a similar legal scrum with Bell Helicopter over the use of trademarked vehicles in Battlefield 3.) It also comes at a time when EA Sports is in the midst of marketing their 64-player Cover Athlete Vote for Madden NFL 13, although no financial setback is likely to derail the future plans of the massively-selling sports title.
Similar to the concussion lawsuit being brought against the NFL by its former players, there’s not much precedent for how the case will turn out.
EA did succeed in having a similar lawsuit dismissed last year – former college football players unsuccessfully sued for damages in NCAA Football’s use of player likenesses. But now that the First Amendment card was unsuccessful, it will be interesting to see how both sides proceed in their plan of attack. Will EA be forced to spread the wealth of Madden’s Calvin Johnson-like earnings, or is the plaintiff group that includes Tony Davis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Vince Ferragamo from the Los Angeles Rams, and Billy Joe DuPree from the Dallas Cowboys about out of challenge flags?
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