Closely watched class action lawsuits by former student athletes against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”), its licensing arm, the Collegiate Licensing Company (“CLC”), and the popular video game maker, Electronic Arts, Inc. (“EA”) will proceed following a May 2, 2011 decision by Judge Claudia Wilken of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. See In re NCAA Student-Athlete Name & Likeness Licensing Litigation Case No. 4:09-cv-01967-CW (N.D. Cal. May 2, 2001) (the “May 2 Order”).
The stakes in the NCAA Student-Athlete Name & Likeness Licensing Litigation are high. If the student athlete plaintiffs are successful, the NCAA, as well as its member conferences and universities, could face significant liability, and the NCAA would need to substantially change the way in which it approaches its licensing efforts and student-athlete relationships. The resolution of the licensing and First Amendment issues also has the potential to cause significant repercussions across the entertainment industry, including the motion picture industry, as courts grapple with determining the breadth of First Amendment protection in an age of realistic computer generated depictions that could arguably be mistaken for the real thing.