On July 31, 2012, the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling protecting the right of privacy held by collegiate athletes against the use of their likeness in connection with video games. (Keller v. Electronic Arts, Inc. (2013) 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 10-15387. This decision joins the Third Circuit’s decision in Ryan Hart v. Electronic Arts, Inc., U.S. App. LEXIS 10171 (3d Cir. 2013), finding that the collegiate athletes’ right to publicity outweighs Electronic Arts’ First Amendment rights.
Sam Keller was a starting quarterback for Arizona State in 2005, before joining Nebraska in 2007. Electronic Arts ("EA") is the producer of a series of video games known as NCAA Football, in which EA seeks to replicate a school’s entire team as closely as possible. NCAA Football is an interactive game that allows the video gamer a wide range of playing options including modification of a player’s size and abilities as well as for which team he plays. Keller sued EA and the NCAA in a putative class action. EA filed a SLAPP motion ("Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation"), claiming that this conduct was protected by the First Amendment. The District Court denied the SLAPP motion, and EA appealed.
The Ninth Circuit recognized that video games, like books, plays, and movies, are entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment. (Brown v. Entm’t Merchs. Ass’n, 131 S.Ct. 2729, 2733 (2011). However, the First Amendment rights are not absolute, and states may recognize the right of publicity to a degree consistent with the First Amendment. (Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broad Co., 433 U.S. 562, 574-75 (1977).)