James Kachmar 08_webA recent Ninth Circuit decision in Antonick v. Electronic Arts, Inc. (filed Nov. 22, 2016), shows some of the proof issues that a plaintiff may encounter in prosecuting claims for copyright infringement in connection with software.  A jury found in favor of plaintiff’s claims of infringement; however, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for

transparentJust over a month ago I wrote about the Davis v. Electronic Arts matter that was pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.  Specifically, I opined that the matter was ripe for Supreme Court review in light of the circuit split that is developing with respect to the misappropriation of likeness in video games.  In my last blog, I explained that a number of legal scholars, and myself, believed that Electronic Arts had absolutely no chance of prevailing in Davis in light of an identical case that Electronic Arts lost at the trial level and on appeal (Keller v. Electronic Arts) wherein NCAA college football players brought a similar claim for the use of their likeness in the Electronic Arts video game franchise NCAA Football.  The matter was submitted to the Ninth Circuit on September 11, 2014, and the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion on January 6, 2015.

In the Davis v. Electronic Arts opinion (Case No. 12-15737), the Ninth Circuit rejected the legal razzle dazzle (pardon the football expression) raised by Electronic Arts and upheld the denial of Electronic Arts’ motion to strike the case as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).  Specifically, the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that the use of the former players’ likeness was protected under the First Amendment as “incidental use.”  The Court disagreed with Electronic Arts’ characterization of the role of the former players’ likeness in the video game because it was central to Electronic Arts’ main commercial purpose: to create a realistic virtual simulation of football games involving current and former NFL teams.  Electronic Arts acknowledged that the likeness of the current NFL players carries substantial commercial value and failed to offer a meaningful distinction with respect to the former NFL players.  Instead, it argued that there are thousands of players in the video game and accordingly, any individual player’s likeness has only “de minimis commercial value.”  However, the Court refused to accept this highly technical argument and instead found “no basis for such a sweeping statement.”
Continue Reading Davis: Electronic Arts Gets a New Set of Downs and Still Can’t Score

transparentOn September 11, 2014, the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on the appeal in Davis v. Electronic Arts (Case No. 12-15737), a class action lawsuit brought by three former NFL Players against Electronic Arts (“EA”), the publisher of the renowned Madden NFL Games.  Michael Davis, Vince Ferragamo, and Billy Joe Dupree claimed that EA violated their right of publicity by using their likeness and the likeness of six thousand other similarly situated former NFL players without permission.  The Ninth Circuit has yet to issue its ruling on the appeal, but most legal scholars agree that EA has almost no chance of prevailing on the issue in light of the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Keller v. Electronic Arts (Case No. 10-15387) where the Ninth Circuit found that EA unlawfully utilized the images of collegiate athletes in its NCAA Football game series.

Interestingly, EA put forth the same argument in Davis as it did in Keller.  Specifically, EA argued that its portrayal of the class members is protected by the First Amendment under the doctrine of transformative use, which analyzes whether the challenged work or product contains significant transformative elements (or value that) does not derive primarily from the celebrity’s fame.

At the oral argument, counsel for EA cited to a footnote in the Keller decision wherein the court reserved the “question of whether the First Amendment furnishes a defense other than those the parties raise.”  EA argued that the footnote provided the court with the wiggle room it needed to come to a different conclusion than it did in Keller.  EA urged that the court prescribe a second standard for the use of likeness in books, films, and video games.  Specifically, EA argued that the extensive labor and detail involved in making a video game should almost guarantee that the product is entitled to First Amendment protection as an expressive work.  Judge Marsha S. Berzon was not very receptive to this argument and remarked that the creation of a video game sounded more like a compilation of data than an expressive work.  EA responded that a great deal of creative expression is embodied in that compilation.  Whether the Court accepts EA’s position remains to be seen. 
Continue Reading Electronic Arts and its Disrespect for the Game