Federal court rules video game college athletes look like college athletes

Sean Gardner

A similar case to the Ed O'Bannon trial that could reshape college sports saw a majority of judges find an avatar in several NCAA Football games was too similar to former Rutgers QB Ryan Hart for EA Sports' case to hold up.

College athletes hoping for monetary compensation won a minor victory Tuesday, as a federal court ruled that college football video games didn't sufficiently change representations of athletes in the game.

In a separate case from the highly anticipated O'Bannon vs. NCAA showdown, a lawsuit filed by former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart was revived by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Three years after a lower court had dismissed Hart's complaint on the grounds that EA Sports' First Amendment right to free speech protected their ability to make games like the NCAA Football series. But Tuesday, a 2-1 majority ruled that because Hart's identity wasn't sufficiently changed in the game, he has the ability to seek compensation. From the judge's ruling:

"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," wrote Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr., for the majority.

A dissenting judge argued that characters in the game were no different from characters in books and movies. This likely doesn't mean much: the ruling doesn't actually win Hart any money, it just earns him the right to continue the previously denied suit seeking money. Nor does it have any bearing on the O'Bannon case, as that court doesn't have to acknowledge the precedent set here. But it does show that a court of judges seems to find the legal argument behind college athletes seeking a share of the money made off their likenesses somewhat compelling, which is a big first step. And Hart's lawyer says he plans to make the lawsuit into a class-action case, which would allow him to bring in other athletes to seek money alongside him as plaintiffs.

Hart still holds Rutgers' record for most career completions. A character in NCAA Football editions from 2004-2006 had many of the same attributes as Hart, down to his accessories.

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