Billy Mitchell Threatens To Sue The Guinness World Record Folks For Removing His Records
from the not-how-it-works dept
Last time we wrote about Billy Mitchell — a man who appears to be famous for playing video games and pissing people off — he was losing his legal fight against Cartoon Network for having a character that was a parody of Mitchell named Garrett Bobby Ferguson on its “Regular Show.” The court was not impressed.
The GBF character resembles Plaintiff because both have long black hair and a beard. GBF also has a similar backstory to Plaintiff?s portrayal in The King of Kong, in that both held records at video games, and both are portrayed as arrogant yet successful, beloved by fans, and willing to go to great lengths to maintain their titles. But while GBF may be a less-than-subtle evocation of Plaintiff, GBF is not a literal representation of him. The television character does not match the Plaintiff in appearance: GBF appears as a non-human creature, a giant floating head with no body from outer space, while Plaintiff is a human being. Nor does GBF?s story exactly track Plaintiff?s biographical details. GBF holds the universe record at Broken Bonez; Plaintiff held the world record at Donkey Kong. GBF attempts to maintain his universe record through crying and lying about his backstory; Plaintiff maintained his world record by questioning his opponent?s equipment and the authenticity of his submission of a filmed high score. Plaintiff himself acknowledges that GBF is not a literal representation of him when he states that ?[t]he actions of this character . . . make me look like some sort of monster, or creature, with no heart or decency. This is simply not me.?
The court also noted that, unlike Mitchell, when Ferguson lost his video game record “the character literally explodes, unlike Plaintiff.” So there’s that.
Apparently, in early 2018, there was a big controversy when Twin Galaxies, who tracks video game records (including for the Guinness Book of World Records), stripped Mitchell of his various records after claiming that an investigation showed evidence that Mitchell did not follow the rules. The Guinness folks later removed Mitchell’s records as well, and later included Mitchell in a section called “The Records That Never Were”:
Now, a year and a half later, Mitchell had a law firm send a threat letter to both Guinness and Twin Galaxies, demanding a retraction. There’s also the, um, 156-page “evidence pack.” Notably, despite the legal threat letter demanding a “retraction” for “their defamatory statements made against him,” nowhere in the letter does it lay out which specific statements are actually defamatory. That’s kind of a key thing that you’re supposed to do if you have a legitimate claim of defamation. What actual statements the letter does mention don’t seem to come close to the standard for defamation. Instead, Mitchell’s lawyers are nitpicking about Guinness’ specific word choice. For example:
Notably, Guinness World Records then published its 2019 Gamer?s Edition Book (see Figure 1). Titled ?THE RECORDS THAT NEVER WERE,? Guinness World Records specifically cites the disqualification of Billy Mitchell?s ?highest score on PAC-Man and the first perfect score on PAC-Man.? Following that, Guinness stated that Mitchell?s ?submitted scores were obtained while using MAME.? In this statement, not only did Guinness World Records assert that Mitchell?s records, specifically his Pac-man records, ?NEVER WERE,? but its use of the generalized phrase, ?submitted scores,? also asserted that all his achievements were obtained while using MAME. These statements are factually false.
Defamation has to be pretty specific. Merely using a “generalized phrase” that might imply a conclusion that is different than what you want is not defamatory. The letter also demands that every record Mitchell had be restored, and insists that only partially restoring the scores won’t be enough to avoid litigation:
This request for retraction is for all of Billy Mitchell?s records; a partial retraction will not suffice. Both Twin Galaxies and Guinness World Records must retract their claims impugning Mitchell’s scores publicly, so the damages done to him will finally begin to reverse. There was a press release against Billy Mitchell, and there must be a reciprocal release in his favor.
Each corporation has a 14-day deadline to review the information and issue the retraction, or we will resort to legal recourse, our final option.
But, uh, not giving you a world record is not defamatory. What would they be suing over? I don’t see what kind of legal claim there might be. There are also at least some questions about the statute of limitation. The Guinness World Record people are based in NY. The Twin Galaxies boss appears to be in California — both of which have a 1-year statute of limitations for defamation. Of course, it’s possible that he could file elsewhere with a longer statute of limitations. Either way, it’s difficult to see what’s defamatory here, or what the actual legal claims are. We’ll wait and see what is said in response and if any litigation is actually filed.