SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Electronic Arts used retired football players as characters in its 2009 Madden NFL video game without paying them, a class action claims in Federal Court. About 6,000 retired players say EA tweaked their descriptions, including their teams, jersey numbers, positions and physical characteristics, in order to avoid paying licensing fees.
Lead plaintiff Michael Davis, a former running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, claims EA swiped his and other players’ personas for the game, which raked in $400 million last year.
The Madden 2009 game allows players to pit “historical teams” against one another.
Davis says EA tried to avoid paying him for using his likeness in the 1979 Buccaneers team by altering his jersey number and field position, though gamers can still recognize him by his name, age, height and weight.
The retired players say EA made slight changes to all the retired players’ characteristics, even changing a player’s weight by a few pounds to avoid paying licensing fees.
“Despite EA’s ‘scrambling’ of the retired NFL players’ numbers,” the complaint states, “the games are so designed so that consumers of the Madden NFL video game franchise will have no difficulty identifying who the ‘historic’ players are.”
The lawsuit adds: “EA’s commercial exploitation of retired NFL players is both blatant and prolific, as the 2009 edition of the Madden NFL game contained over 140 ‘historic teams’ containing likenesses of thousands of retired NFL players. EA was fully aware that its use of the retired players’ likenesses was without authorization and that a license was needed.”
The retired playeres demand actual and punitive damages for deprivation of publicity rights and unjust enrichment. They are represented by Brian Henri with Thomas, Whitelaw and Tyler.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a complaint brought by two other classes of retired NFL players against their attorneys, whom they claim misrepresented them in a breach of contract suit against the NFL Players Association. In that case, the classes said the association refused to grant EA licenses to use retired players’ images in its Madden games.
EA was also slapped with an antitrust class action last June, by a rival who claimed the video game maker has established a monopoly in interactive video football software.