The California Fair Pay to Play Act- Finally IP Social Justice for Student Athletes

Earlier this month Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the Fair Pay to Play Act, the nation’s first law to override the NCCA’s prohibition which prevents student athletes from commercially exploiting their IP and related legal rights. See California Law Takes Paying College Athletes Out of the NCAA’s hands. The NCAA maintains its rule notwithstanding the fact that the NCAA requires student athletes to permit the NCAA to exploit those very same rights to obtain millions in revenues every year.

For years, some legal scholars (see e.g. Lateef Mtima, What’s Mine Is Mine but What’s Yours Is Ours: IP Imperialism, the Right of Publicity, and Intellectual Property Social Justice in the Digital Information Age) and many social activists have urged that the NCAA rules allowed the grossly unfair exploitation of student athletes, many of whom hail from marginalized, working class, and rural communities, and for whom the college athletic scholarship system provides the only opportunity to obtain a college education. Although at one point it seemed that the courts were willing to curtail NCAA rules and allow students to protect their IP rights from unfair exploitation, this progressive wave came to a halt when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a California District Court ruling that the NCAA prohibition violates the federal antitrust laws. Instead, the Court of Appeals declared that the NCAA rule satisfies the antitrust “rule of reason” doctrine, which effectively permits an antitrust violation where the social benefits outweigh the social harms (raising the question as to whose “benefits” count and whose “harms” don’t.)

Under the new law, college athletes in California will be permitted to accept commercial endorsements and hire agents beginning in 2023. Hopefully the Fair Pay to Play Act will inspire similar legislation in other states, and finally allow all student athletes to share in the millions of dollars of commercial revenues they generate every year.

We will continue this important conversation during our annual CLE program.