$40M Deal Between EA, Student-Athletes Approved


     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge granted final approval to a $40 million settlement between current and former college athletes and video game maker Electronic Arts.
     The agreement encompasses NCAA basketball and Division I football players whose names, images or likenesses appeared in EA video games between May 4, 2003 and Sept. 3, 2014, and includes several major lawsuits against EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company over the use of student-athletes’ identifies in NCAA-themed games without compensation.
     One of these was an antitrust class action against the NCAA, its member schools and Electronic Arts led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, alleging a conspiracy that kept student-athletes from receiving a share of the television broadcast revenue for their names, images and likenesses.
     The case was filed in 2009 and took five years to get to trial. But in a victory for the athletes, U.S. District Judge Claudia ruled in August 2014 that the NCAA violated antitrust law by imposing rules that prohibited athletes from being paid such compensation.
     Another was a 2009 right-of-publicity class action against EA and the NCAA, fronted by Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller. The Keller action successfully defeated EA’s claim that its use of player images and likenesses is First Amendment-protected speech, both in the district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
     Hours before the O’Bannon trial began, the NCAA announced that it had settled the Keller claims for $20 million.
     Claims against EA in both cases were dropped as part of the $40 million deal. In its motion for approval, EA noted that the parties had been working on an agreement since 2011, although the initial mediation sessions were fruitless.
     Sathya Gosselin with Hausfeld LLP, one of the lead player attorneys, said in an email, “The court’s order of today affirms that this settlement is a significant achievement for the class. For the first time ever, college athletes (current and former) will receive compensation for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. This is a historic moment in the fight for college athletes’ rights, and we are proud to be a part of it.”
     Attorneys for the players will receive $12 million of the $40 million fund, Wilken ruled, citing the successful result of the case and the amount of work and risk involved.
     The award will be divided among Hausfeld LLP, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, The McKenna Law Firm LLC, and Lum, Positan & Drasco LLP. The four firms will also share in a $2.1 million award for expenses.
     O’Bannon and Keller will each receive incentive awards of $15,000.

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