NCAA Athletes Lose the Big One: Judge Dismisses Publicity Rights Lawsuit Against Broadcasters

On Thursday, June 4, a Tennessee federal judge dismissed a putative class action filed by ten former college athletes who accused major TV broadcasters and others of improperly profiting from the use of their names and likenesses.  U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp granted a motion to dismiss with prejudice, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case under Tennessee law.  He explained that the Tennessee Personal Rights Protection Act only protects a person’s name and likeness when used in advertisements, and that Tennessee common law does not give participants in sporting events publicity rights.

Additionally, Judge Sharp made it clear that this case in no way addresses whether student athletes should receive compensation for playing college sports.  He specifically limited the issue in this case to whether these former athletes had stated a viable claim that they were entitled to monetary compensation as a result of participating in televised games, and he ultimately ruled that they failed to do so under any of their claims.

Originally, the lawsuit was brought in October 2014 by eight former college football players and two former college basketball players against TV networks including CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and ESPN.  The former athletes had alleged that these networks, along with several college athletic conferences and a group licensing agency, had worked together in order to create a “plantation type arrangement” that brought in billions of dollars, none of which the athletes ever received.

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