We Hardly Knew Ye: Judge Dismisses Manuel Noriega's Publicity Rights Suit Against Activision
from the dictate-this dept
Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain any faith in our legal system, particularly when it comes to intellectual property, and perhaps even more particularly when it comes to publicity rights. Then, some former drug-running dictator comes along to sue a video game and the system actually manages to do right. Yes, the case brought by Manuel Noriega against Activision over the game’s depiction of the dictator in the Call of Duty franchise has been tossed out by the judge.
“This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we’re gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn’t win,” said Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who had defended Activision in the case. “This is not just a win for the makers of Call of Duty, but is a victory for works of art across the entertainment and publishing industries throughout the world.”
Nice of the mayor to rub it in, but he ain’t wrong. In dismissing the case, the judge explicitly states that the First Amendment rights of Activision outweigh any publicity rights that may or may not be afforded to Noriega. It’s an important distinction to make, since the judge likely could have simply dismissed the entire suit based on Noriega being a foreign national and not subject to the publicity rights law of California (under which he filed the claim). Instead, the dismissal brings free speech in to play, with a particular eye towards public persons.
“A brief summary of defendants’ uncontroverted evidence conclusively shows that Noriega is a notorious public figure, perhaps one of the more notable historical figures of the 1980’s…Noriega’s opposing papers do not contest any of this.”
The dismissal goes on to note that the depiction of Noriega in the game is clearly transformative, is not the sum total of the game’s storyline, and that therefore economic considerations regarding the game being a commercial product don’t factor in at all. Finally, it quotes another ruling quite beautifully, “public prominence does not confer a shield to ward off caricature, parody and satire.” Bravo.