ESPN, Broadcast Networks Face Class Action Lawsuit From College Athletes

Athletes claim that their likenesses and names were used unlawfully

ESPN, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox have been hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging that they’ve used college athletes’ names, likenesses and images without the their’ permission.

The lawsuit, filed at the U.S. district court in  Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, lists a host of other defendants, including William Morris Endeavors.

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The suit was filed by a group that includes former Vanderbilt University football players Javon Marshall and Eric Samuels, as well as Sean Parker, who played on the University of Washington’s football team from 2010-13.

“Plaintiffs bring this action on behalf of themselves, and other similarly situated current and former FBS football and NCAA Division I basketball Student Athletes who have been foreclosed from the market for the licensing, use, and sale of their names, images, and likenesses,” the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint also claims that the networks, athletics and licensing entities listed as defendants have “conspired” to enforce anticompetitive rules that are “unjustly enriching the defendants in the amount of billions of dollars.

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“The defendants — broadcasters, athletic conferences and licensing entities — have conspired with each other and the NCAA to promulgate, enforce, adopt, implement and/or exploit rules that are inherently anticompetitive in forbidding Student Athletes from competing in the marketplace for the value of their rights of publicity,” the suit reads.

“The alleged ‘release’ that the Student Athletes are forced to sign as a condition of playing football or basketball in college is void as a matter of public policy, unconscionable, and vague, and therefore void and/or unenforceable. The defendants’ actions constitute violations of the Student Athletes’ rights of publicity, violations of the Sherman Act (antitrust) and violations of the Lanham Act (false endorsement), thereby unjustly enriching the defendants in the amount of billions of dollars, all to the detriment of the Student Athletes.”

According to the lawsuit, the networks have “fixed” the amounts that the plaintiffs are paid for the use of their likenesses to an amount that equals next to nothing, or a mere portion of what it’s costing them to attend college.

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“Broadcast Defendants have conspired to fix the amount Student Athletes are paid for the licensing, use, and sale of their names, images, and likenesses at zero or, at most, a portion of the cost of [college] attendance, by colluding with the NCAA and Conference Defendants. Broadcast Defendants, to their own commercial advantage, refuse to negotiate or enter into contracts with Student Athletes. In so doing, Broadcast Defendants have adopted and implemented the restrictive bylaws and rules of the NCAA and Conference Defendants.”

The result of the alleged conspiracy between broadcasters, licensing agents and sports conferences, the lawsuit claims, is “a marketplace resembling a plantation type arrangement where Defendants financially benefit in the collective amount of billions of dollars, while Student Athletes, the driving force of college sports, receive nothing more than their cost of attendance.”

Alleging violations of rights to publicity, civil conspiracy and violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, among other counts, the lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.

TheWrap has reached out to CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and ESPN for comment. CBS and Fox declined to comment and the other networks have not yet responded to the requests.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.