Court documents unsealed this week have revealed that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was aware that EA made its games using characters that "match as closely as possible the real-life characteristics" of actual student athletes, USA Today reports.
The documents were unsealed this week during court proceedings where 15 named plaintiffs who are former and current football and basketball players on college teams claimed that the NCAA illegally used their names, images and likenesses in their collaboration with EA for its now-defunct college basketball game franchise.
The plaintiffs allege that the NCAA, EA and the Collegiate Licensing Co. violated anti-trust law by conspiring to fix at zero the amount of compensation athletes can receive for the use of their names and likenesses in products or media while they are in school. The plaintiffs claim that student athletes were required to sign forms under which they relinquish in perpetuity all rights pertaining to the use of their names, images and likenesses in TV contracts, rebroadcasts of games and video game, jersey and apparel sales.
Emails revealed in the court documents contradict claims the NCAA's associate director of brand management and licensing made about no player names – only attributes – being used in any of EA's games.
In one email reported by USA Today, a correspondence between the NCAA and EA acknowledges that the jersey number, physical attributes and the history of a player appear in EA's game, suggesting that the NCAA was well aware that student likenesses would be used in commercial products.
The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of the college athletes, whose likenesses were used in commercial games without compensation. The plaintiffs include former college star Ed O'Bannon and NBA legends Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell. The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2014, upon the certification of the suit as a class action.