On Friday, Federal Judge Freda Wolfson dismissed former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart's suit against Electronic Arts for using his likeness without his permission. In the landmark ruling first reported by Reuters, Judge Wolfson found that EA's right to use the likeness of Hart was protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution and this right "outweighs" Hart's right to control the use of his name and likeness.
The case is the latest in a series of ongoing legal battles for the games company. The Supreme Court recently declared that video games are protected free speech, and so Judge Wolfson's ruling makes sense in a larger legal context. But it will likely not be the last word on the matter.
Hart's case is just one of several pending suits against EA debating the right for athletes to have control over their likeness. In his suit, Hart argued that his depiction (even without his name on the back of his jersey) was enough to identify him in the NCAA Football series of games. In the NCAA series, real life players often have the same physical appearance, number, equipment, position and ethnicity as their digital stand-ins-- they only lack the names.
The ruling that EA's First Amendment rights supersede the right for Hart to control his likeness may be cheered by some fans, but others will see the merits of profiting off your own person-- in games or in any media. Others will simply wonder what implications this has for privacy law discussions in the future. If they can't be compensated, could NCAA players opt out of being depicted in video games? Could anyone be depicted in a game and not have legal course to profit from that depiction?
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as Judge Rules EA has "1st Amendment Right" to Depict College Football Players