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Appeals court sides with ex-NFL players in Madden likeness suit

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A federal appeals court struck down Electronic Arts' appeal to dismiss a 2010 lawsuit in which retired NFL players alleged that the publisher used their likenesses without permission in Madden NFL 09. A three-judge panel unanimously declined EA's motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds of First Amendment protections under "incidental use." Madden 09 included over 140 historic NFL teams as well as the stats and positions of thousands of retired athletes to celebrate the series' 20th anniversary, and EA allegedly altered jersey numbers and removed the players' names to avoid paying licensing fees, according to the August 2010 lawsuit.

The judges referred to another recent likeness lawsuit in the opinion, in which former college athletes sued EA in May 2009 over the use of their likenesses in NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football games. EA proposed a $40 million settlement to that lawsuit in September 2013, resulting in those players earning up to $951 for each year their likeness was featured in the games. The publisher added $8 million in expenses related to that lawsuit in May 2014.

EA introduced similar First Amendment-based defenses in its appeal for the retired NFL players lawsuit save for one additional argument: That the likenesses were protected under the First Amendment as incidental use. The judges "held that Electronic Arts's use of the former players' likenesses was not incidental because it was central to Electronic Arts's main commercial purpose: to create a realistic virtual simulation of football games involving current and former National Football League teams." The decision upholds a California court's March 2012 dismissal of EA's attempt to prevent the suit from going to court. Among the plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit is Sam Keller, a former Arizona State, Nebraska and Oakland Raiders quarterback that filed the original likeness lawsuit related to the publisher's college sports games.
[Image: EA]

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