It's your money? You want it now? Tough. Now it could be another year before some $US27 million is distributed to gamers from Electronic Arts' settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought against the exclusive licence its Madden NFL series held. Why? Someone's objecting to the lawyers' fees.
To recap, more than five years ago Electronic Arts was sued by a man, Geoffrey Pecover, who argued that the infamous exclusive licence EA Sports has to make NFL video games was illegal under antitrust law and amounted to a price-fixing scheme. The case became a class action in 2009, and almost a year ago EA settled with the plaintiffs, establishing a $US27 million pool of damages while admitting no wrongdoing.
EA also agreed not to hold exclusive licenses for two types of American football — college football and arena football — even though no publisher other than EA Sports has made one of those games in more than a decade. The exclusive licence EA Sports has with the NFL was untouched.
Originally, the payout per claimant was something like $US1.95 if you bought current generation Madden, and seven bucks if you bought last-gen. That tripled in light of so few claimants emerging. Even if I think this case has been, essentially, the world's most expensive gaming forum slapfight, hell yes, I filed a claim. I'm looking at $US58.29 for two copies of past-gen NCAA and some Maddens since then. For sure there are gamers who will see lots more.
But that's in limbo now thanks to an objector named Aaron Miller. He objected to the size of the attorneys' fees awarded, particularly in light of the original, meager payoff. When his objection was dismissed, appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District (this case is out in San Francisco.) While that appeal is ongoing, no distributions can be made from the settlement pool.
Aaron Miller's lawyer, Steve A. Miller of Denver, appears to make this sort of thing a specialty. Steve A. Miller was called a "professional objector" by at least one person familiar with the case and his objection seems to hint at that reputation, too, complaining of other lawyers' "unwarranted criticism of objector counsel."
Steve A. Miller appeared in the news three years ago representing another objector to a class-action settlement involving Fisher-Price toys and lead paint. He lost.
This morning I called Miller's office, left a voice message and sent him an email to ask him to expand upon his client's interest in this case and his problem with the size of the attorneys' fees. I haven't received a reply.
Meantime, a set of deadlines established by the appeals court lists October 7 as the day Miller's brief is due, and opposing lawyers have a month to file their response. This thing could take another year to resolve.