NCAA Loses Injunction Ruling in Class Action Regarding Use of Player Images in Video Games


Generally, when filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff has one of two aims: to reap payment for damages incurred; or for the court to order an injunction against the defendant. Many plaintiffs seek both. In the current case against the NCAA regarding the rights of student athletes, the plaintiffs have managed to gain court approval to move forward as a class to seek one of these goals, but not the other.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the plaintiffs can move forward as a class in their lawsuit against the NCAA regarding what student athletes receive in exchange for playing sports for their colleges. However, Wilken denied the motion to certify a class which sought billions of dollars in damages from the NCAA in exchange for improper use of the athletes’ names and likenesses in several forms, including live television broadcasts. According to Wilken, the plaintiffs had failed to identify a legitimate method to calculate damages for former players and that was her reason for refusing to certify a class to seek damages.

Sonny Vaccaro had mixed feelings about the ruling. Vaccaro is the form sneaker marketing executive who convinced O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball star, to file the lawsuit against the NCAA. Vaccaro was disappointed that the class won’t be able to pursue damages, but he was optimistic about moving the case forward to elicit changes from the NCAA. According to Vaccaro, O’Bannon said of the ruling, “This is what I wanted … They’ll have rights. I never had rights. I didn’t think I would ever have rights.” The goal in this lawsuit now is to prevent the NCAA from taking advantage of student athletes in the future and using their names and likenesses, not only on television, but also in things like video games for EA.

Vaccaro also said that the plaintiffs “won in the sense we’re going forward, … Those damages, whatever they would have been, if we win, going forward, there’s no limit to what the numbers are in the future.

Vaccaro and O’Bannon aren’t the only ones who are pleased with the court’s ruling. Michael Hausfeld, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, released a statement saying that, “The court’s decision is a victory for all current and former student-athletes who are seeking compensation on a going forward basis. While we are disappointed that the court did not permit the athletes to seek past damages as a group, we are nevertheless hopeful that the court’s decision will cause the NCAA to reconsider its business practices.”

Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Hilary Sherrer, said, “There is a growing public recognition that the NCAA’s business practices are unfair and must be changed. The court’s ruling is a giant leap in the effort to end these unfair practices.”

The NCAA also claimed that the ruling was a victory for their side. They released a statement which says, “We have long maintained that the plaintiffs in this matter are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. This ruling is one step closer to validating that position”.

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