The video game industry is sure to take notice after a federal appeals court ruled that Electronic Arts can be sued by a former college quarterback who alleges EA stole his likeness for its popular “NCAA Football” game.
Ryan Hart, who played for Rutgers from 2002 to 2005, may pursue his lawsuit against EA on allegations that the video game giant misappropriated his likeness for the popular video game.
The 2-1 decision (attached below) was delivered Tuesday by a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. It reversed a district court decision which held that the depiction of college players in the video game was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Hart sued EA in 2009, alleging it violated his right of publicity by using his likeness in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 installments of the “NCAA Football” game. The game’s quarterback shared Mr. Hart’s number, height, weight, helmet visor and the left wrist band he regularly wore in real life.
To earn a First Amendment shield, Electronic Arts had to show that it had transformed Mr. Hart’s identity to a significant degree. The majority of the appeals court panel held that EA had not done so.
“The digital Ryan Hart does what the actual Ryan Hart did while at Rutgers: he plays college football, in digital recreations of college football stadiums, filled with all the trappings of a college football game,” Circuit Judge Joseph Greenaway wrote for the majority. “This is not transformative.”
Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit is considering a similar lawsuit filed by former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller and other former players.