NCAA Lawyer Says Student Athletes Can’t Sue for Broadcast

Student athletes’ rights aren’t infringed by broadcasts of matches and players can’t sue over them, lawyers for the National Collegiate Athletic Association told a judge.

The NCAA doesn’t make student athletes give up the rights to their names, likenesses or images and, just like cheerleaders or mascots at broadcast sporting events, the student players have consented to be filmed and can’t sell their images, said Greg Curtner, an attorney for the association.

“If you go out in public you are fair game to be put on TV, you are consenting to be broadcast,” Curtner said at a hearing today in federal court in Oakland, California. “There is no right of publicity for appearing in a live unscripted event.”

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken is presiding over a four-year-old lawsuit by ex-student basketball and football players against the NCAA and videogame maker Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) The judge is considering whether to expand the lawsuit into a class-action, or group case, allowing current and former NCAA basketball and football players to seek damages from the NCAA, its licensing arm and Redwood City, California-based Electronic Arts.

The athletes allege a conspiracy to prevent them from being paid for the use of their images in broadcasts and games. Class certification gives plaintiffs leverage to negotiate a settlement.

Settlement Talks

Wilken said it might take “a while” to issue a ruling. She urged attorneys for both sides to meet for settlement talks after she issues it.

Schools and broadcasters don’t buy athletes’ rights to control their names or images, Curtner told the judge today.

“No school or broadcaster has seen fit to buy those rights,” said Curtner.

That’s because “the NCAA has a stranglehold on it,” Wilken replied.

“There is no question that absent any pro-competitive justification, the restraints imposed by these bylaws and policies that foreclose athletes from participating in the marketplace” are a violation of antitrust laws, said Michael Hausfeld, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Hausfeld disagreed with Curtner that any participant in a sporting event waives the right to be compensated for appearing in broadcasts.

“Do professionals not convey their rights?” Hausfeld said. The NCAA’s position is that student athletes “retain their rights but they can’t exercise them.”

The case is Keller v. Electronic Arts Inc., 09-01967, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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