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Not Playing Around: 8 Lawsuits Involving Video Games

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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. What if they had made him a scrawny Caucasian?

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

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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. Who thought this was a good idea?

bmx-xxxProfessional 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

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In 2004, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sued Acclaim for close to $500,000, citing breach of contract after 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

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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 $2,000 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

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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.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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