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ESPN ordered to turn over documents in Ed O'Bannon's NCAA Likeness Lawsuit

A lawsuit that targeted the use of NCAA athletes' likenesses in video games is back in the news, after the same players' attorneys issued cease and desist letters to several television netowrks.

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ESPN must produce NCAA contracts in O'Bannon case

Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon's suit against the NCAA got a boost on Monday when a Federal Judge ordered ESPN to turn over their licensing and television contracts for men's basketball and football. According to Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, the documents encompass ESPN's deals with the NCAA for Division I basketball and football since 2005. U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello signed the order compelling ESPN to produce the documents to O'Bannon.

ESPN is not a target of O'Bannon's lawsuit, but the documents will help his legal team get a frame of reference on just how much the NCAA profits from college athletes' names and likenesses. This is the crux of O'Bannon's suit, that the NCAA has denied former collegiate athletes money for using their names and likenesses commercially. Getting a sense of the financial terms of these media contracts will help O'Bannon's argument, and also have an impact on any damages if the suit were successful (or settled).

ESPN vehemently opposed O'Bannon's request, arguing that the discovery undertaking would be unduly burdensome and that the contracts were confidential. But Covello sided with O'Bannon, forcing the worldwide leader to produce the relevant contracts.

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TV networks targeted in likeness lawsuit

Everybody remember the doldrums of the 2010 college football offseason, when Jim Tressel had a job and North Carolina football flew under the radar and all we had to amuse ourselves with all spring was the possibility of the Big 12 collapsing under the weight of various strains of Texan hubris? The lawsuit lobbed against EA Sports by NCAA athletes and former athletes, including UCLA's Ed O'Bannon, Sam Keller of Arizona State and Nebraska, and Oregon's David Paulson provided a brief window of entertainment before disappearing into a morass of civil litlgation.

Now, over a year later, a quote from Paulson pondering the NCAA's rights to his likeness in perpetuity is suddenly legally relevant again:

He is not allowed to use his name to make some extra money, but if you turn on the television on a Saturday you will see ESPN promoting an upcoming game by using a players’ name and image.

Paulson, of course, was prescient. The money's in the Mouse, and the Worldwide Leader in Sports is one of the new targets of the players' alliance:

Attorneys for a group of former college players suing the NCAA over the continued use of their likenesses in commercials, video games and other mediums are taking their fight to ESPN, CBS and other major networks. A cease-and-desist letter sent Monday says each of the networks "appears to have no right" to feature the names, images and likeness of former major-college football and basketball players without their permission.

This lawsuit just got sexier, and the implications if it's at all successful could be wildly entertaining, but don't pop your popcorn just yet: The EA case won't even see a courtroom until next spring. Just in time to get us through the offseason of 2012.

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