Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Company have reached a settlement of their lawsuit with former college athletes regarding the use of the players likenesses in EA's NCAA Football series, according to documents filed in federal court today.
The court must approve the settlement before it is final.
The settlement applies to both the antitrust and right-of-publicity suits that EA and the CLC, which handles licensing for most of the schools that appear in EA's game, were facing. Former University of California, Los Angeles basketball player Ed O'Bannon originally filed the antitrust suit, while the right-of-publicity suit was filed by Sam Keller, a former quarterback for Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska.
"[The antitrust plaintiffs, right-of-publicity plaintiffs, EA and the CLC] hereby notify the Court that they have reached a settlement of all claims asserted by all Plaintiffs in this matter against EA and CLC," reads the document. "This settlement does not affect Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant National Collegiate Athletic Association," the document continued — the NCAA now stands alone in the legal battle with student-athletes.
The parties are in the process of preparing the requisite documents for the court for preliminary approval of the settlement, and the terms of the settlement agreement will remain confidential until that point. EA, the CLC and the NCAA had all filed motions to dismiss the O'Bannon lawsuit earlier this month. The plaintiffs charged that the three organizations profited off the use of student-athletes' likenesses in EA's college football games and other media without compensating the players; the suit has the potential to change the way collegiate athletics work.
it's unclear if the settlement means EA could continue its college football series next year
Earlier this afternoon, EA announced it would not release a college football game in 2014 amid the ongoing litigation and pressures from entities involved in the game. That would leave this year's NCAA Football 14 as the last entry in the franchise for now. EA also noted that it continued to make efforts to resolve the lawsuits, and left open the possibility of the college football video game franchise to return if the suits were settled. It's unclear if this proposed settlement means the series could continue next year without a hiccup.
We've reached out to EA and the CLC for more details, and will update this article with any information we receive. You can read the notice of a proposed settlement in full at the source link below.
Update: An EA representative told Polygon the company had no comment.
Update 2: "Today's settlement is a game-changer," said Lanier Law Firm attorney Eugene Egdorf, one of the lawyers representing former Rutgers University quarterback Ryan Hart — whose lawsuit was folded into this litigation earlier this year — in a press release today. "We view this as the first step toward our ultimate goal of making sure all student-athletes can claim their fair share of the billions of dollars generated each year by college sports."
The Lanier Law Firm added, "Based on this settlement and other recent court rulings, EA Sports has agreed to change the way it develops future games featuring NCAA athletes in order to protect the rights to their likenesses."
CBS Sports reports that every player who has appeared in one of EA's college football or college basketball games from the past decade — approximately 125,000 individuals — is eligible to receive funds from the settlement.
Update 3: According to a statement provided to Polygon by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, one of the firms representing the student-atheletes in the likeness lawsuit, the settlement covers the claims made in the O'Bannon case, and the defendants are pleased by recent events.
"we are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement"
"I can say that we are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement, whose terms we will be proud to present to the court and to the public," said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and lead attorney in the Keller litigation. "When we began this case in 2009, we were venturing into a new application of the law, with little precedent, while facing monumental legal hurdles.
"When we filed the case, we felt very strongly that EA's appropriation of student-athletes' images for a for-profit venture was wrong, both in a legal sense and from a more fundamental moral perspective. These guys were busting their butts on the field or the court trying to excel at athletics, oftentimes to help win or maintain scholarships so they could get an education."
According to Berman, the firm will now focus on claims against the NCAA.
"We hold that the NCAA intentionally looked the other way while EA commercialized the likenesses of students, and it did so because it knew that EA's financial success meant a bigger royalty check to the NCAA," he said.