Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal Of Frank Sivero's Publicity Rights Suit Against 'The Simpsons'

from the you've-been-simponsized dept

You may recall that in 2014, bit-actor Frank Sivero of Goodfellas semi-fame sued Fox over a recurring character that appeared on The Simpsons. Sivero says several writers for the show were living next door to him just before Goodfellas began filming, at a time he says he was creating the character of Frankie Carbone. He then claims that the writers for The Simpsons were aware of this work and pilfered it to create the character Louie, who is one of Fat Tony's henchmen. Because of this, he claimed that the show had appropriated his likeness, the character he was creating, and decided he was owed $250 million from Fox for all of this. For its part, folks from The Simpsons claimed that Louie is an amalgam of stereotypical mobster characters and a clear parody of those characters.

In response, Fox asked a Los Angeles Superior Court to strike the complaint on anti-SLAPP grounds. In 2015, the court agreed, the ruling resulting from such memorable exchanges as:

"If I was a teenage girl and I had a crush on your client, would I be satisfied with a pin-up of the character Louie?" [Judge Rita Miller] asked.

"Probably," replied Sivero's attorney Alex Herrera. He argued the character's similarity to Sivero constituted a factual question fit for a jury. Judge Miller found her own evaluation of the character's similarity to Sivero relevant to whether the claims could withstand the SLAPP motion. She decided they could not.

Sivero and his legal team apparently didn't get the hint and appealed. This past week saw the California appeals court affirm the original ruling and rejecting the lawsuit on the same anti-SLAPP grounds. This ruling too includes memorable statements, such as the court specifically stating that being "Simponized" is transformative.

Sivero acknowledges his likeness has been 'Simpsonized,'. To be 'Simpsonized' is to be transformed by the creative and artistic expressions distinctive to The Simpsons. This is precisely what the California Supreme Court meant in Comedy III when it said: 'an artist depicting a celebrity must contribute something more than a merely trivial variation, [but must create] something recognizably his own, in order to qualify for legal protection.' Contrary to Sivero’s argument, the fact other cartoon characters in The Simpsons share some of the same physical characteristics does not detract from the point these physical characteristics are transformative. Indeed, Sivero’s observation highlights the very point that the creative elements predominate in the work.

Between the transformative nature of the depiction, the clear differences between the character and Sivero, and the parody nature of the character in general, this was a case that was always doomed for failure. It should also serve as a welcome relief for the entertainment industry that has spent the past few years looking down the barrel of the publicity rights gun. For these kinds of depictions to violate anyone's publicity rights would serve as a detriment to the creative industries, particularly those that rely on humor and parody.

Thankfully, several courts have now seen through this clear attempt at a money-grab.

/center>
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: frank sivero, gangster, publicity rights, simpsons
Companies: fox


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    anonymoose, 28 Feb 2018 @ 11:49pm

    Re: Character

    He didn't wait 6 years. The character was introduced in 1991 ....

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

Introducing the new Techdirt Insider Chat, now hosted on Discord. If you are an Insider with a membership that includes the chat feature and have not yet been invited to join us on Discord, please reach out here.

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.