Judge lets athlete’s lawsuit against Electronic Arts and NCAA proceed

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Former Arizona State University quarterback Samuel Keller can do a little end zone dance.

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a motion from Electronic Arts and the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. to dismiss a lawsuit by Keller. The former NCAA athlete stirred up controversy when he filed his lawsuit last May against EA and the NCAA, alleging that the two profited from the likenesses of college athletes without compensating them.

At stake is a multibillion-dollar video game franchise for the Redwood City, Calif., game company. EA has licenses with the NCAA to create such titles as NCAA Football 10 and NCAA Basketball 10.


Not surprisingly, the NCAA and EA promptly filed a motion to throw out Keller’s suit.

The judge for the U.S. Federal Court in the Northern District of California, Claudia Wilken, disagreed with their reasoning, for the most part. She threw out EA’s claim, for example, that the video games ‘transform’ the players’ avatars and are, therefore, protected under the First Amendment. ‘EA’s transformative use defense fails,’ she wrote.

Wilkins did, however, dismiss Keller’s claim that the NCAA breached its contract with him and other NCAA players by allowing their likenesses to be in EA’s games. That’s because, Wilkins pointed out, Keller ‘has not identified a contract he is seeking to enforce.’

-- Alex Pham

Images: Photo (left) of Samuel Keller, plaintiff in a lawsuit against NCAA and EA, and a screen shot of EA’s NCAA Football game (right). Credit: Associated Press.