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EA Wins Dismissal In NCAA Player Likeness Suit

EA Wins Dismissal In NCAA Player Likeness Suit

September 9, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

Electronic Arts has won a dismissal in a case brought by Rutgers University quarterback Ryan Hart that alleged the company didn't have the legal right to use his likeness in its NCAA Football titles.

Reuters reports that U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson accepted EA's arguments that its First Amendment right to free expression overruled the privacy rights of Hart and other NCAA players to protect use of their name and likeness.

While EA's NCAA Football 2006 didn't refer to Hart by name, his lawsuit pointed out that the "virtual QB" for Rutgers in the game shared Hart's general appearance, attributes, uniform number, height, weight, visor, home state, and even a distinctive left hand wristband Hart wore.

Judge Wolfson had previously dismissed most of Hart's claims in a September 2010 ruling, but left room for Hart to submit an amended complaint, which has now also been dismissed.

In the 2010 ruling, Wolfson said that the validity of EA's first amendment defense "depends upon whether the video game is considered commercial speech or an artistic work." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that video games are expressive works that do indeed merit full first amendment protection.

EA lawyer Elizabeth McNamara told Reuters she thought the ruling "validates Electronic Arts' rights to create and publish its expressive works."

The ruling may have implications for similar, ongoing cases brought by Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller and former Cleveland Browns player Jim Brown. Both of those cases are currently being appealed to the federal Ninth Circuit Court.

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