Video Game Law Blog

July 07, 2005

Steve Neal is an African American male and former football player for Western Michigan University. He's also a Caucasian player for the New England Patriots.

Oh alright, they're two different football players with the same name.

EA used Western Steve's photograph in Madden NFL Football 2005, but (oops!) paired it with New England Steve's statistics. Western Steve sued EA for invasion of privacy "by appropriation", invasion of privacy "by false light", and defamation. In a recent decision, the US District Court ruled in favour of EA.

The court concluded that Western Steve had licensed the use of his photograph Western Steve had signed a contract with the NFL Players Association giving the Association the right to licence third parties (such as EA) to use his likeness and name. The Association sublicenced that right to EA. Therefore, Western Steve lost the invasion of privacy "by appropriation" argument.

The court also concluded that EA hadn't placed Western Steve in a "false light" by using his likeness as a representation for a Caucasian player. To win on this point, Western Steve had to show that EA's actions were highly offensive to a reasonable person. The court didn't think that portraying an African American player as a Caucasian player met the test (although the court might have come to a different conclusion if dancing were a larger part of football). For the same reason, the court concluded that EA hadn't defamed Western Steve by attributing the wrong biographical information to him.

The case is available here http://www.shorl.com/bubrajujymihe

The citation is Neal v. Elec. Arts, Inc., [2005] U.S.Dist. LEXIS 12324 (June 1, 2005).