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Weil Wins Landmark Decision for CBS in Student-Athlete “Name, Image and Likeness” Class Action

On June 4, 2015, Weil won a definitive victory for CBS Broadcasting Inc. (CBS) when the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee granted the dismissal with prejudice of a putative class action relating to the broadcast of college sports games.

Plaintiffs, current and former student-athletes who played National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I college football or basketball, alleged that CBS, along with a host of college athletic conferences, other networks, and licensors, profited from the broadcast and use of those student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses without permission. Plaintiffs’ claims included causes of action for violations of Tennessee’s right of publicity statute, the Sherman Act, and the Lanham Act.

In a landmark decision and judgment on CBS and the other defendants’ motions to dismiss, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ complaint in its entirety, with prejudice. The court ruled that there was no right of publicity for participants in sporting events, and with respect to Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ claim that the broadcast contracts that purportedly transfer student-athletes’ names, images, and likenesses are the unreasonable restraint of trade, and rejected Plaintiffs’ allegations of antitrust injury or reduced competition, noting that “undoubtedly, there is stiff competition among the conferences to secure air time for games, [and] among the networks to broadcast those games…and Plaintiffs’ allegations suggests as much.” With respect to the Lanham Act claims, the court held that broadcasting sporting events does not propose a commercial transaction, but rather depict real events and distribute desired speech, and there was no confusion about what the student-athletes depicted in the broadcasts are doing. All remaining claims were dismissed as linked to the primary claims.

The Weil team was led by litigation partners Yehudah Buchweitz and Eric Hochstadt and assisted by litigation associates Jessie Mishkin, Joseph Adamson, Kevin Kramer, Tracy Ederer, Jane Lee, Cameron Cook, and Joy Dineo. CBS was also represented by local counsel R. Dale Grimes of Bass Berry & Sims PLC.