Like a quarterback scrambling in the pocket, Electronic Arts has been dodging court cases related to its sports titles left and right. In recent years, the litigation's been initiated by athletes — both college and professional — that would have the publisher dole out a cut of profits for using their likenesses. The latest one could potentially involve thousands of retired NFL players who claim that EA isn't entitled to model gameplay off of their careers without compensation.
The lawsuit — brought by retired running back Tony Davis of Tampa Bay, former Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo and tight end Billy Joe DuPree of Dallas — seeks redress for this usage. EA supposedly used data like height, weight and field position from non-active NFL athletes in previous versions of Madden. The company claims that doing this is no different than using real-life player stats for fantasy baseball. The three players named in the potential class-action suit aren't participants in contracts that lets EA use the likeness of certain NFL retirees.
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, U.S. District Judge Seeborg the ruled that EA's using more than just numbers to bring their virtual players to life.
In his ruling, Seeborg said artists have a right to use prominent people's names and images in creative works - for example, in a fictional film based on a celebrity's life. But this video game simply shows the plaintiffs "in their conventional role as football players" and is the "digital equivalent" of using their pictures to sell T-shirts, he said.
He rejected the company's argument that it had a constitutional right to report accurate information about the players, saying the video game did not describe or re-create actual contests.
Being one of the top-selling franchises in all of video games makes EA's Madden series a big target for lawsuits and a ruling like this arguably makes the publisher more vulnerable than ever for a big legal hit.
Ex-NFL players cleared to sue video game maker [San Francisco Chronicle]