Former UCLA Athlete takes Compensation Lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court

On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon Jr. asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a lawsuit against the NCAA over compensation for the use of players’ images and likeness.

In 2009, O’Bannon filed a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of former NCAA athletes claiming that the NCAA’s policy of forbidding student sports players from receiving money for the use of their images is a violation of antitrust law and personal publicity rights. O’Bannon alleged that the NCAA used his image in various DVD’s, pictures, video games, and stock footage; however, he was unable to receive compensation for this use because student athletes are required to relinquish publicity rights before they can play on a university team.

A California District Court agreed with the former student athletes in finding that the NCAA violated antitrust rules by preventing student athletes from being paid for the use of their names, images, and likeness. As a result, the court ruled that the athletes could receive deferred payments not beyond $5,000. This decision barred the NCAA from continuing to impose this rule.

The NCAA appealed the district court decision. A Ninth Circuit Court upheld that the NCAA violated antitrust law; however, the court ruled that the athletes did not have to be paid beyond the cost of attending college. The court accepted the NCAA’s conception of amateurism, which prevents players from receiving compensation beyond the cost of their college attendance. The Court justified the furthering of amateurism because “not paying student athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs.”

The current petition to the U.S. Supreme court challenges the Circuit Court decision by arguing that the court overstepped its bounds in accepting amateurism because it made amateurism an end result, rather than considering the effect of the athletes’ likeness on consumers. The athletes further argue that the Circuit Court decision trumps the authority of lower courts in antitrust disputes by taking away its broad remedial power. The petition states that “this court has made clear that the antitrust statutes vest district courts with broad remedial power,” and the Circuit Court restrained this power in denying that the athletes be paid beyond the cost of their attending college.

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