Mob Wife Suing Rockstar Over Supposed Likeness In GTA5

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!


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 27th, 2014 @ 6:29pm

    Self-fulfilling lawsuit

    It's always funny, reading about these kinds of legal actions, where before they were filed, either:

    1. The resemblance was intentional, but vague enough that only the people directly involved can really link the two.

    2. The resemblance wasn't intentional, and the only person who links the fictional with the factual is the person suing.

    After however, suddenly a whole lot of people link the fictional character with the real person, whether or not they were linked before, and a lawsuit brought about supposedly to 'protect' the person's reputation instead torpedoes it far more effectively than the original fictional characterization ever could have.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Feb 27th, 2014 @ 6:46pm

    The fact that she appeared on a ridiculous reality show for at least three seasons should itself be grounds for a parody of the character.

     

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  3.  
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    S. T. Stone, Feb 27th, 2014 @ 8:29pm

    Re: Self-fulfilling lawsuit

    Itís a form of the Streisand Effect, then.

    Shall we call it The Gravano Effect?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 27th, 2014 @ 8:51pm

    I have to laugh. I am not sure were it me I'd want that sort of questionable fame. I guess if you figure the money is enough to make it worth it, you can always take the money (if you get it) and move to Alaska.

     

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  5.  
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    Ox, Feb 27th, 2014 @ 9:19pm

    If only I knew a real life Trevor to introduce her to...

     

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  6.  
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    Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile), Feb 27th, 2014 @ 10:01pm

    I've long been fascinated by the willingness of people to identify with unsavory, unsympathetic, fictional characters.

    Why would Gravano want people to think that's her? (Aside from the money that she isn't going to get anyway, that is.)

    Oddly enough, I've had my own run-ins with folks who think I'm writing about them. A woman was apparently convinced that one of my characters was her. But she never said which one, leaving me to hope it wasnít the the pissed off lady with the .357 Magnum and a box of explosives.*

    At least she didn't sue me.

    -----
    * "Point of Honor", which those interested can find in The Anarchy Belt (freebie).

     

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  7.  
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    a, Feb 27th, 2014 @ 11:55pm

    For a blog about law you are very bad at law. You do a good job of analyzing the facts but as soon as you talk about the law you mess up. Publicity rights are what stop people from taking a photograph of you and using it for advertising, because copyright belongs to the photographer.

    The examples you use as abuses of this right are documentaries and artistic interpretations. Both are immune from suit from the right of publicity, for example the statute in California specifically exempts "a play, book, magazine, newspaper, musical composition, audiovisual work, radio or television program, single and original work of art, work of political or newsworthy value, or an advertisement or commercial announcement for any of these works."

     

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  8.  
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    miatajim (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 3:20am

    Re: Self-fulfilling lawsuit

    "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." -Oscar Wilde

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 3:34am

    [...]and story backgrounds that do not jive with Gravano's.


    Jive means bullshit. As in, "Man that cat was talkin' some jive." Combined with a noun, it means a bullshitter. As in, "You are a jive turkey."

    Jibe means to be in accord or agreement with. As in, "This story does not jibe with my assumption that the character in GTA V was parodying someone relevant."

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 4:22am

    Re: I've long been fascinated by the willingness of people to identify with unsavory, unsympathetic, fictional characters.

    The problem is, humans are inherently self-centred creatures. And thus people jump to the conclusion that everything they see or hear automatically must automatically reference them.

    Celebrities all the more so. In fact, their egocentric nature is the very reason they are successful in their field.

     

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  11.  
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    Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: I've long been fascinated by the willingness of people to identify with unsavory, unsympathetic, fictional characters.

    Maybe I'm not human then. [grin] The only time I assumed that I was being referenced in a work of fiction was a novel by someone who knows me... and the name was my own not-terribly-common name. Oh, and the author said it was me.*

    ---
    * No, I didn't sue. I laughed. A lot. It was an inside joke regarding firearms preferences; pretty darned funny to those who know me.

     

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  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 8:35am

    Re: I've long been fascinated by the willingness of people to identify with unsavory, unsympathetic, fictional characters.

    " I've had my own run-ins with folks who think I'm writing about them."

    Me too. It's really fascinating to me -- invariably, I don't see the resemblance between them and the character they think is is really them, and I'm the author.

    On the other hand, I have written characters that I did specifically model after actual people. I've never heard a peep from them.

     

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  13.  
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    DogBreath, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 10:01am

    Re: Re: Self-fulfilling lawsuit

    Definitions:

    The Gravano Effect: (1) The Act of Streisandsuiting oneself. (2) Filing a lawsuit about publicity rights, in which before such suit was filed, no one knew who the hell said person was, bringing all the attention that said person didn't want to have that they alone brought upon themselves, thereby proving they had publicity rights to protect in the first place. (3) A self fulfilling and self supporting publicity rights lawsuit for any person in the world that anyone would not know or care to know about, and said person would still be anonymous except for the fact that they filed such a lawsuit. (4) A lawsuit in which everyone has to hear about some nobody and "their" publicity rights being violated in a court of law (the most useful byproduct of which will be converting oxygen into CO2), and wasting precious time that could be better spent digging for earwax and removing belly button lint.


    Extra:

    Streisandsuiting: (1) A combination of the Streisand Effect and Gravano Effect.

     

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  14.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    Re:

    For a blog about law you are very bad at law.

    Oh really?

    Publicity rights are what stop people from taking a photograph of you and using it for advertising, because copyright belongs to the photographer.

    Yes, that's what they were for initially. But, as we've discussed in detail, they've grown way, way beyond that. Like in this case, for example.

    The examples you use as abuses of this right are documentaries and artistic interpretations. Both are immune from suit from the right of publicity

    Except that we still see lawsuits of this nature all the time.

    So.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 5:14pm

    Compare to Vanna White

    Compare to Vanna White's lawsuit relating to her job on Wheel of Fortune.

    White v. Samsung Electronics
    Note the dissenting opinion to the bizarre majority opinion.

    If there was no "likeness," then how could there be a violation of publicity by using her "non-likeness"?

     

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  16.  
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    Jay, Mar 28th, 2014 @ 2:08pm

    Karen dreams too much or gaming too much

    They believe too much it's their own story. I think that Karen wants to be more populair and begain this court on Manhattan. What i don't understand is: Does she want more money or does she do this to get more popularity? 40 Million dollar is a lot of money to say it's her own story.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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