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Federal Judge Allows Conspiracy Claims|Against NCAA and Electronic Arts

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The National Collegiate Athletics Association, its licensing arm and video-game developer Electronic Arts failed to stop two class actions accusing them of conspiring to dupe college athletes into signing away their rights to profit from their own images.

UCLA basketball star Edward O'Bannon filed a class action accusing the NCAA of forcing students to sign a misleading form that "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.

In another class action, former Arizona State University quarterback Samuel Keller claimed Electronic Arts conspired with the NCAA to use players' images without their permission in Electronic Arts' NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball and NCAA March Madness video game franchises.

In a pair of rulings, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken found sufficient evidence that the NCAA, Collegiate Licensing Corporation and Electronic Arts conspired to get students to sign away the rights to their images without compensation, and that the NCAA and the game developer profited from those images.

But Wilken dismissed with leave to amend Keller's breach of contract claim against the NCAA, because it was based on a phrase that read, "athletes agree that they have 'read and understand' the NCAA's rules."

This phrase, Wilken ruled, does not indicate that the agreement was a contract.

The rulings will allow lawyers to delve into the defendants' financial records during discovery.

"This is a truly history day -- to our knowledge, no one has ever gotten behind the scenes to examine how student-athletes' current and future rights in their images are divided and sold," Jon T. King, one of O'Bannon's lead attorney, told The New York Times.

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