from the fishing-for-cash dept
I suppose it's because Rockstar Games' opus, Grand Theft Auto 5, is equal parts sandbox game and Rorschach test that makes it such a likely target for people who incorrectly think that the game's makers appropriated their likenesses. We already saw one such publicized story in which Lindsay Lohan was reportedly looking into suing Rockstar over the game's cover art and a character so completely and insanely lascivious that one would wonder why someone like Lohan would want to actively attempt to associate herself with it. In any case, she was wrong on both charges. Even if she were right, the portrayal was clear parody (though, again, not of her specifically).
Well, meet Karen Gravano, wife of the man who brought down John Gotti, and instigator of a $40 million dollar lawsuit against Rockstar for GTA5's portayal of a minor character in a side mission, utilizing the relatively new and insane concept of publicity rights.
The ripped-off character is Antonia Bottino, said Gravano’s lawyer Thomas Farinella. The animated hottie is rescued by the game's main character after getting buried alive off a dirt road. She then recounts how a murder charge was pinned on her father and how the family was forced to be “moving around safe houses in rat-hole hick towns where no one comes looking,” according to an online synopsis of GTA V. Her fictional dad, former Gambetti family underboss Sammy (Sonny) Bottino, eventually became a snitch, acquiring many enemies. He would not allow her to participate in a show called “Wise Bitches,” an obvious takedown of the VH1 reality show.Here, again, we see the problem posed both by GTA5's depictions of pop culture and the Rorschach nature of the characters. Are there aspects of the character that have a vague and likely parodied similarity to Gravano? Sure, you could convince me of that. But, as with the Lohan "character", the character has many other characteristics and story backgrounds that do not jive with Gravano's. Such as what happens to her in the game. She never claims in her filing to have any further commonality with the character in the games' actions. In fact, one of the similarities she cites, her mobster father not allowing her to appear on a reality show, would be directly refuted by the fact that Gravano appeared on a reality show until its fourth season. What this appears to be, again, is a parody character consisting of a composite of real life people featured in pop culture. You know, like every character in the Grand Theft Auto series is. That's the whole point. To somehow look at a parody that features a vague nod in the direction of a public figure and think that should result in $40 million? That's just crazy.
Furthermore, this all revolves around the theory of publicity rights, something we've covered before. This is a legal concept ill-defined at best, where the limitations on bringing a suit are only those of money-seeking attorneys. You can imagine what a problem that continues to be, particularly in light of the clash such a concept has with rights towards expression. Think of it this way: if a public figure can sue over the use of their image and/or story simply by claiming the use is commercial, an accusation that can be stretched unbelievably thinly, any expression dealing with that figure will resulting be sanitized. Documentaries on controversial figures would be out the window. Artistic interpretations of importnat people gone. No measure of intellectual property was designed with that kind of censorship in mind.
So, to conclude, we have a bad theory of law being practiced upon a target that is likely not guilty of it in the first place. That's the kind of legal hijinks that you get when you allow people to believe they can own their own history. Congratulations, IP!