Not Playing Around: 8 Lawsuits Involving Video Games

Former pro football player Jim Brown filed a lawsuit against Sony and Electronic Arts.
Former pro football player Jim Brown filed a lawsuit against Sony and Electronic Arts.
George Rose, Getty Images

Sam Keller, who played college football at Arizona State and Nebraska, recently filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that video game giant Electronic Arts and the National Collegiate Athletic Association illegally profit by using college basketball and football players' likenesses in video games without their permission. While the games don't use the players' names, the uniform numbers, height, weight, home state, skin tone, and even hairstyle correspond to actual student athletes, and gamers can download rosters of the players' names online. Here are 8 other examples of celebrities and athletes who took issue with their portrayal in video games and advertisements.

1. Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns

In 2008, former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown filed a lawsuit claiming Sony and Electronic Arts used his likeness in their Madden video game without his permission. According to the New York Daily News, the Hall of Fame running back sued because the All Browns Team, a collection of the greatest players in Cleveland Browns history, features "a muscular African-American player wearing number 32." Earlier this year, the NFL Players Association reached a $26 million settlement with its retired players after a federal jury found that the union's licensing subsidiary had allowed Electronic Arts to use retired players' likenesses in their games without compensation by scrambling uniform numbers and not using the players' names.

2. Not so Dee-Lited with Sega

In 2003, ex-Dee-Lite star Kierin Kirby, better known as Lady Miss Kier, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Sega because the main character in the popular video game Space Channel 5 bore a "striking physical similarity and likeness" to her. Kirby sought more than $750,000 in damages for misappropriation of her likeness and claimed, among other things, that the character's name, Ulala, was a blatant rip-off of one of her signature phrases, "Ooh la la." Kirby, who burst onto the scene with Dee-Lite in the early '90s with the hit song "Groove Is In The Heart," had declined a $15,000 offer from Sega three years earlier for the rights to use her image in the game. Sega argued that a version of the game featuring Ulala was released in Japan between 1997 and 1999 and the creators had never heard of Dee-Lite or Lady Miss Kier. Game over. Kirby lost the suit and a later appeal, and she was ordered to pay all of Sega's legal fees, which totaled more than $600,000. Ooh la la!

3. Baseball's old-timers strike back

Darrel Chaney, who had more strikeouts than hits in his 11-year major league career, led a group of former major leaguers in a class-action lawsuit against nearly a dozen computer game makers in an effort to earn similar compensation to what baseball's current players receive in exchange for the right to use their likenesses in games. Chaney's efforts began 2 years after Don Newcombe and several of his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates filed a similar suit against Warner Communications, the makers of Hardball 5. The lawsuits were settled in 2000. Most baseball video games no longer use former players' actual names.

4. The Romantics don't like much about Guitar Hero

The Romantics filed a lawsuit against Activision Inc., the maker of Guitar Hero, claiming that the video game infringed on their rights by featuring a recording similar to the band's best known song, the 1980 hit "What I Like About You." While Activision obtained permission to use a cover version of the song, the Romantics claimed the imitation was too much like their original recording. A federal judge in Detroit ruled against the band, which was seeking unspecified damages and an injunction on the game's sale, indicating that Activision had acted in good faith by securing the rights to record a cover version.

5. BMX racer didn't want an XXX reputation

Professional dirt-bike racer Dave Mirra filed a lawsuit against video game maker Acclaim in 2003, seeking over $20 million in damages for using his name and likeness in a game that allegedly damaged his image. According to the suit, Mirra had originally agreed to be associated with the game, BMX XXX, which the company described to him as a mature game in the vein of such films as "Airplane!" The end product, however, was much racier. Mirra alleged in the suit: "Acclaim changed the concept of the game to become more sexually explicit and pornographic, ultimately settling on nudity as a major selling point." The lawsuit was eventually settled amicably, with no monetary damages paid by either side.

6. Double trouble

In 2004, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sued Acclaim for close to $500,000, citing breach of contract after the cancellation of the Mary-Kate and Ashley in ACTION! video game. Acclaim was ordered to pay nearly $178,000 as part of a settlement and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon after.

7. Suit the rapper

Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, filed suit against Traffix Inc. for $1 million for using his image in an online advertisement without his permission. As part of the Flash-based game "Shoot the Rapper," users were prompted to shoot 50 Cent as he walked along a red carpet with a click of the mouse. A successful shot redirected the user to a Traffix client's Web site. "It looks like him, and there's no doubt the character is intended to be him," 50 Cent's lawyer said.

8. "Finish him" in court

Ho Sung Pak sued Midway, Acclaim, Sega, and Nintendo, the makers of Mortal Kombat, for using his likeness and name without his consent. Pak, whose name appears in the credits, claimed the character Liu Kang was based on him. Pak was paid $2000 to lend his support to the arcade version of the game produced by Midway and two other companies, but sought compensatory damages for the alleged misappropriation of his name and likeness in the wildly popular at-home version. The case settled on the eve of a jury trial. Pak, who is a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame, played Raphael in the second and third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.

Bonus: I'd like to buy a foul

This lawsuit involves an electronics giant, not a video game, so we're including it as a bonus. In 1993, Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White filed a lawsuit against Samsung for misappropriating her identity in a print advertisement. The ad, for a VCR, featured a robot in a blond wig and evening gown turning letters with a caption that read, "Longest running game show. 2012 A.D." White won the lawsuit, which was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court ruled in favor of White's claim of a right to her property of publicity.

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.