Another hall-of-fame sports star—Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics great—has sued Electronic Arts over what he calls the unauthorized use of his likeness from his college career more than 50 years ago.
Russell, who is plainly "Center #06" of the University of San Francisco's 1956 team in NCAA Basketball 09, is one of the biggest names to file suit against the sports publisher and the NCAA. Many have done so over the past two years, alleging that the thinly veiled references to actual players in EA Sports' college rosters—in many cases all but the player's name is used—are easily identifiable by sports fans and constitute an unauthorized use of the player's likeness.
An Electronic Arts spokesman gave no comment to Bloomberg News, which first reported news of the lawsuit.
Russell and his San Francisco Dons had appeared in NCAA Basketball's "Tournament of Legends" mode, in which great championship teams from the past could be placed into a bracket and pitted against one another.
Electronic Arts and the NCAA have prevailed in incremental developments as these cases have evolved, although a number are still pending. Russell's lawsuit likely will be joined into an existing action somewhere. Previously, Electronic Arts has prevailed over the former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart, who alleged the unauthorized use of his likeness in the label's NCAA Football series. A federal judge held that Electronic Arts was acting within its First Amendment rights in making such a depiction, and that right superseded Hart's right to privacy or control of his likeness. EA prevailed in a similar fashion over NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown back in 2009.
The publisher is still embroiled in lawsuits brought by other players from college basketball and football.
Incidentally, Russell appears (with his fully compensated permission) in the recently released NBA 2K12 (pictured above).
Ex-NBA Star Russell Sues NCAA, Electronic Arts for Image Use [Bloomberg News]