Neal v. Electronic Arts, Inc., 374 F.Supp.2d 574 (W.D. Mich. 2005) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
Steve Neal is an African-American former college football player. He signed a standard National Football League Player contract before trying out with the Tennessee Titans, and the contract gave the National Football League Players Association the right to license Neal’s image. The National Football League Players Association licensed Neal’s image to Electronic Arts, giving the game company the right to use Neal’s image in videogames.
The National Football League sent a picture of Neal to Electronic Arts (along with photos of other players), and the company used the photo in its popular videogame “Madden NFL Football.” The photo showed Neal, but listed the statistics of the New England Patriots’ Steve Neal — a Caucasian football player with the same name. Neal sued Electronic Arts for invasion of privacy by appropriation, invasion of privacy by false light, and defamation.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
In response to Electronic Arts’ motion for summary judgment, federal District Judge Richard Enslen concluded that the licensing agreement clearly gave the Players Association the right to license Neal’s image for use in videogames, and therefore Neal had no claim for invasion of privacy by appropriation.
Judge Enslen also rejected Neal’s claim for invasion of privacy by false light. The judge determined that a reasonable person would not be highly offended by the mismatch between Neal’s image and another player’s statistics.
Finally, Judge Enslen concluded that use of a picture suggesting a player was of another race was not defamatory. In fact, the judge stated that Neal — a player who never made it onto an NFL team — could not have suffered harm to his reputation by having his image associated with a player on the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The judge also imposed Rule 11 sanctions on Neal’s attorney, because he should have known that all of the claims were meritless.