Take Two Interactive Wins Two Publicity Rights Lawsuits Against Lindsay Lohan And Karen Gravano
from the mean-girls dept
Hopefully you will recall that Take Two Interactive had been facing down two lawsuits brought by Lindsay Lohan and Karen Gravano over character depictions in the company’s opus, Grand Theft Auto V. Both filed suit over publicity rights and likeness concerns in New York. Lohan claimed that a character in the game that evaded paparazzi after having sex in public and made some oblique references to similar-sounding movies that Lohan had acted in, along with a female character on the game’s cover art, were both ripping off her personage. Gravano, meanwhile, claimed that a different character, one which made references to starring in a reality show about mobster wives and evading mob retribution, was ripping off her personage. While both suits failed to address the fictional differences in the characters, which were both composite characters parodying their celebrity archetypes, Take Two attempted to defend itself with those facts and tried to get the case dismissed. Strangely, the court at the time allowed the case to move forward…
…and now the appellate division has reversed course and tossed both cases out.
On Thursday, New York’s appellate division first department took a look at both this case as well as one involving ex-Mob Wives star Karen Gravano, who brought a similar lawsuit against Take-Two over Grand Theft Auto V. Gravano had filed a $40 million complaint over the character of “Andrea Bottino,” who allegedly used the same phrases the plaintiff did, had a father who was a government informant and had a mutual connection with reality television. Gravano’s suit was given a green light by the same trial judge in the Lohan lawsuit.
The court’s decision makes it clear that both lawsuits, brought for publicity rights reasons, don’t stand up to New York’s law. First and foremost, this is because the characters in the game aren’t a direct composite of either plaintiff.
Both Gravano’s and Lohan’s respective causes of action under Civil Rights Law § 51 “must fail because defendants did not use [plaintiffs’] name, portrait, or picture'” (see Costanza v Seinfeld , 279 AD2d 255, 255 [1st Dept 2001], citing Wojtowicz v Delacorte Press , 43 NY2d 858, 860 ). Despite Gravano’s contention that the video game depicts her, defendants never referred to Gravano by name or used her actual name in the video game, never used Gravano herself as an actor for the video game, and never used a photograph of her (see Costanza at 255; see generally Wojtowicz at 860). As to Lohan’s claim that an avatar in the video game is she and that her image is used in various images, defendants also never referred to Lohan by name or used her actual name in the video game, never used Lohan herself as an actor for the video game, and never used a photograph of Lohan (see Costanza at 255).
And, second, because the kind of depiction being discussed in these cases is protected First Amendment speech, as should have been obvious from the outset.
Even if we accept plaintiffs’ contentions that the video game depictions are close enough to be considered representations of the respective plaintiffs, plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because this video game does not fall under the statutory definitions of “advertising” or “trade” (see Costanza at 255, citing Hampton v Guare , 195 AD2d 366, 366 [1st Dept 1993], lv denied 82 NY2d 659  [stating that “works of fiction and satire do not fall within the narrow scope of the statutory phrases advertising’ and trade'”]; see generally Brown v Entertainment Merchants Assn. , 564 US 786, 790  [“(l)ike the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas . . .” and deserve First Amendment protection]). This video game’s unique story, characters, dialogue, and environment, combined with the player’s ability to choose how to proceed in the game, render it a work of fiction and satire.
Meanwhile, one imagines that the legal teams for both women have been handsomely paid for not informing their respective clients of the futility of these lawsuits from the outset. I mentioned early on in these posts that the legal team for Take Two ought to have been able to stroll into court in their underwear, scream “Parody! First Amendment!” and immediately walk out of the courtroom victorious. That it had to go to much more trouble than that is unfortunate, but it’s still good to see the court get this right.