(CN) – The NCAA must disclose revenue data to a group of college athletes who claim that they unwittingly signed away all rights to profit from their own images, a federal judge ruled.
In a 2009 class action, former UCLA basketball star Edward O’Bannon claimed the National Collegiate Athletic Association forced students to sign the misleading Form 08-3a if they wanted to play. This form allegedly “commercially exploits former student athletes” by giving the NCAA the right to profit from their images without compensation, long after the players have left school.
The athletes say the NCAA, Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Company violated federal antitrust laws and conspired to restrain trade by fixing their compensation to $0.
The plaintiffs plan on certifying two classes: a “declaratory and injunctive relief” class of NCAA basketball or football players whose images were used after they stopped playing college sports, and an “antitrust damages” class of athletes whose images have been licensed or sold.
The antitrust damages plaintiffs say the NCAA must produce revenue data from its members so that the parties can calculate damages. But the NCAA said its information is privileged and not relevant.
During negotiations with the NCAA, the antitrust plaintiffs agreed to restrict the time period for the class action to range from July 2005 until the final judgment.
Finding the information relevant and not privilege, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins sided with the athletes.
The NCAA is accused of having “‘act[ed] through its members’ to ‘eliminate the rights’ of antitrust plaintiffs to receive any compensation from ‘television contracts, rebroadcasts of ‘classic’ games, DVD game and highlight film sales and rentals, on-demand streaming and sales of games and clips, ‘stock footage’ sales to corporate advertisers and others, photograph sales, video game sales, and jersey and other apparel sales,” Cousins wrote, quoting from the complaint.
“Because the information at issue includes revenue data derived from television and licensing contracts, the information appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence with respect to the damages antitrust plaintiffs seek,” the judge added.
It is unlikely that disclosure of the requested information “could chill the willingness and ability of the NCAA and its members to engage in candid and sensitive communications going forward, based on their fear that a future litigant might also seek discovery relating to those communications,” the decision states.
“The NCAA does not explain why a failure by its members to provide it with confidential financial information would have a negative effect on the organization or on its formulation and implementation of policies and strategies,” Cousins wrote.
“The NCAA’s nebulous allegations of a potential chilling effect are outweighed by the protective order that already is in place to limit the dissemination of confidential materials obtained through discovery,” he added.
In a separate ruling, however, Cousins ordered sanctions against the plaintiffs for improperly subpoenaing the Big Ten Conference, the Big Ten Network and Fox Broadcasting Company, which are not defendants in the original complaint.
Though the athletes scaled back their subpoena, Cousins still denied that maneuver in February.
He awarded the Big Ten Conference around $37,000 in sanctions, and gave Fox and Big Ten Network each more than $15,000.
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