INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that fantasy sports websites do not violate the state’s publicity-rights law by using the names and pictures of college athletes without their consent.
Akeem Daniels and Cameron Stingily both played football for Northern Illinois University, and were joined as plaintiffs by former Indiana University football player Nicholas Stoner in a lawsuit claiming fantasy sports websites FanDuel and DraftKings used their likenesses without permission.
FanDuel and DraftKings run fantasy sports games where users pay an entry fee and assemble virtual sports teams to compete against other users for cash prizes. The games use the names of real athletes and use real-world stats to determine points for the assembled teams.
Following the filing of the original lawsuit, DraftKings and FanDuel suspended their offering of games based upon collegiate sports, but brought back such contests this year.
Daniels, Stingily and Stoner argued that the use of their names in the fantasy games and advertisements violated their rights to publicity as they did not agree to be involved with the websites. They sought $5 million in damages.
The players associations for the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and Major League Soccer filed a joint amicus brief with the Indiana Supreme Court in support of the former college players, arguing that the fantasy contests are “games, not a reference source.”
“They differ substantially from products that courts have previously found exempt as products designed to promote ‘the free dissemination of information’ about newsworthy matters of public interest,” the brief states.
The case made its way to the Seventh Circuit, but the Chicago-based appeals court punted it back to the Indiana Supreme Court in March.
On Wednesday, the five-judge panel of the state’s high court unanimously ruled in favor of the websites, finding that the use of the plaintiff’s likenesses and the use of their statistics were exempted from the state’s publicity-rights law because that information is considered “newsworthy.”
Justice Steven David authored the 13-page opinion and wrote that the websites’ “use of players’ names, images, and statistics in conducting fantasy sports competitions bears resemblance to the publication of the same information in newspapers and websites across the nation.”
David went on to write that the information was not “stripped” of its news value simply because the information is being used in the context of a fantasy sports game.
In regards to the use of the collegiate athletes’ likenesses in advertising, the court again ruled in favor of FanDuel and DraftKings, finding that the information is not presented in a way to make the public think that the athletes are endorsing the product.
The court did not totally shut the door on future lawsuits regarding advertisements, “Importantly, however, this finding does not foreclose a court from closely scrutinizing the actions of a particular defendant to ensure no unauthorized endorsements are being made,” David wrote.
David was joined by Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justices Mark Massa, Geoffrey Slaughter and Christopher Goff in handing down the ruling.
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