Electronic Arts Class Action to Move Forward

     (CN) – A federal judge refused to grant judgment to Electronic Arts in a civil class action that accuses the company of duping college athletes into signing away their rights to profit from their own images.
     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 NCAA sports. This form allegedly “commercially exploits former student athletes” by giving the NCAA the right to profit from their images without compensation, long after the athletes 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.
     In May 2011, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken tossed some of the conspiracy claims against EA, finding that the lawsuit did not plead facts suggesting that the company joined the alleged conspiracy.
     Wilken also dismissed the claim that EA conspired to “group boycott” athletes to deny them compensation for the use of their images, likenesses or names.
     She noted that the consolidated amended complaint fails to allege that EA helped require student athletes to sign annual forms requiring them to relinquish all rights in perpetuity for use of or compensation for their images, likenesses or names.
     EA moved for judgment on the pleadings, which Judge Wilken denied in an order Wednesday.
     The judge found the terms of the licensing agreements do not refute the athletes’ antitrust claims.
     “The agreement does not distinguish between former and current student-athletes, even though, in the next sentence, it acknowledges that both may be encompassed within the word ‘athlete,'” Judge Wilken wrote.
     “In the context of antitrust plaintiffs’ other allegations, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, these terms can fairly be read to evidence a ‘meeting of the minds’ between EA and the other defendants not to compensate former student-athletes, where such a contract would interfere with the student-athletes’ existing agreements with the NCAA.”
     Judge Wilken also rejected EA’s argument that the plaintiffs’ claim that some former athletes’ licensing of their likenesses is inconsistent with their anticompetitive conduct claim.

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