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Electronic Arts Tosses Some Conspiracy Claims

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Electronic Arts can dismiss claims from a civil class action that accuses it of duping college athletes into signing away their rights to profit from their own images, a federal judge ruled. But Collegiate Licensing Company and the National Collegiate Athletic Association cannot do the same.

In addition to granting relief only to Electronic Arts, the ruling also pertains only to the certain antitrust allegations originally filed by eight former college basketball players and four former college football players.

That suit was consolidated earlier with a publicity-rights complaint filed by four former college football players.

EA claims the plaintiffs do not have enough evidence to plead that it engaged in an antitrust conspiracy with the Indiana-based NCAA and or the Georgia-based College Licensing Company (CLC).

The plaintiffs had claimed that the NCAA has college athletes to sign release forms, and CLC then executes these license agreements with companies like EA, which then profit off the athletes' images, likenesses and names in video games and other products.

EA says there is no basis to suggest it joined in the conspiracies that the plaintiffs allege. One claim states that the defendants conspired to pay athletes $0 for their images, likenesses or names.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken agreed Monday that the lawsuit does not plead facts suggesting that EA joined the conspiracy.

"Antitrust Plaintiffs note that EA entered into license agreements with CLC that did not compensate them and putative class members for the use of their likenesses," Wilken wrote. "However, Antitrust Plaintiffs disavow use of these agreements to show the price-fixing conspiracy, stating that, while EA's license agreements furthered the conspiracy, the 'agreements are obviously not the agreement among Defendants to participate in this unlawful and anticompetitive scheme.' Antitrust Plaintiffs do not identify any other agreement to which EA was a party that relates to the alleged price-fixing scheme."

"Lacking factual allegations of an agreement, Antitrust Plaintiffs' ... claim against EA based on an alleged price-fixing conspiracy must be dismissed," the 17-page ruling states.

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.

Wilken also dismissed the athletes' common-law claims as tied to the federal conspiracy claims.

CLC tried to dismiss the same claims as well as civil-conspiracy claims alleged by the publicity-rights complaint. NCAA requested the same relief, as well as to dismiss the breach-of-contract claim in the publicity-rights complaint.

Wilken shot down both motions.

The 9th Circuit is currently weighing EA's motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law. Wilken rejected the motion last year but stayed the action in December.

Though the anti-SLAPP claims were only filed in connection to the lawsuit brought by former Arizona State quarterback Samuel Keller, Wilken said she used her discretion to stay proceedings and discovery against EA on other plaintiffs' claims that are identical to those on appeal.

Keller filed his complaint, claiming EA conspired with the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing to violate his right of publicity, in May 2009. UCLA basketball star Edward O'Bannon filed his complaint two months later, asserting antitrust claims against NCAA and CLC. University of North Carolina football player Bryon Bishop sued over misappropriation of image in September. All three complaints were consolidated in January, and the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in March.

Wilken refused to stay proceedings and discovery for the NCAA and CLC.

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