In the latest disagreement between athletes and those who make revenue off of them, two fantasy sports companies have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Seventh Circuit against three former college football players.
In September 2017, United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed the claims of three former college football players, who alleged that fantasy-sports companies Fanduel, Inc. (“FanDuel”) and Draftkings, Inc. (“Draftkings”) each violated the players’ respective rights of publicity by including their names and likenesses in fantasy sports competitions. U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled that the sites’ use of fake salaries and commentary relating to student-athletes falls within a newsworthiness exception to Indiana’s right-of-publicity law.
Now, former athletes Akeem Daniels, Cameron Stingily and Nicholas Stoner are attempting to block the fantasy leagues from using players’ names and likenesses – on behalf of themselves and almost 3,000 other former college football and basketball players. The two companies are cross suing.
Fanduel and Draftkings argue that an Indiana law clearly allows the practice. “The plain text of the statute forecloses their claim. As the district court correctly held, [DraftKings and FanDuel’s] dissemination, use, and analysis of publicly available statistical information for college football athletes falls within the newsworthiness and public interest exceptions that the Indiana legislature included in Indiana’s right-of-publicity law,” the companies wrote in a statement on Tuesday, January 16th.
The athletes think differently. They argue that daily fantasy sports contests, where customers build imaginary rosters to compete against each other based on the athletes’ real-world stats, are really illegal gambling sites that accept paid wagers and make money by taking a cut. Judge Pratt formerly ruled that, illegal or not, there was no authority that held that that would negate right-to-publicity-law exemptions. The companies’ actions were considered “reporting,” since they published factual data that could be used as a reference source and the data pertained to the names and likenesses of real-world athletes.
It is unclear how the appellate judge will rule, but fantasy football fans should stay tuned.