Private Prison Company Sues Netflix Over Use Of Logo In 'Messiah'

from the prison-for-prophet dept

When we last talked about the Geo Group, a company making hundreds of millions of dollars running private prisons, one of its executives was attempting to improve the company's reputation by constantly removing all the dirty from the Wikipedia page about the company. In trying to do this, of course, the company actually amplified the controversies listed on Wikipedia and, having been caught trying to scrub the internet of its own sins, found itself in headlines as a result. At present, the Wikipedia page still lists those controversies, but more on that in a moment.

Because the latest bit of news from Geo Group is that it is suing Netflix over the use of its logo in a fictional prison in Messiah.

The GEO Group, which operates private prisons and detention centers, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that it had been defamed in two episodes of the Netflix series “Messiah.”

The series depicts a mysterious figure who gains a following by performing miracles in the desert. In the third and fourth episodes, the character is detained at an immigration facility in Texas, which is identified with GEO Group logos.

The suit claims that the show depicts the facility in a defamatory light. The inmates do not have beds, are kept in overcrowded conditions and surrounded by chain-link fences.

In addition to the claim of defamation, the suit also claims that the Netflix shows use of Geo Group's logos in two of its episodes constitutes trademark infringement. If all of this seems somewhat familiar, it's because it's quite similar to the spat between the infamous Pinkerton Consluting & Investigations company and Take Two Interactive over the latter's Red Dead Redemption 2 game, which portrayed the Pinkertons fictionally in a way that jives with its historical reputation. While in that case the lawsuit was filed by the content producer seeking declaratory judgement that its use of all names and trademarks was protected free speech, it's still the case that Pinkerton ran away from its threats. I would imagine Geo Group will need to do so as well, as this sort of fictional representation is indeed protected on First Amendment grounds.

As for the defamation claim, well, we're back to those controversies from the Wikipedia page. Those list overcrowding of its prisons, poor conditions that led to multiple prison riots, and specifically some claims of poor conditions for immigrants awaiting deportation. You know, basically the sort of portrayal the suit itself alleges in Messiah.

“Unlike in ‘Messiah,’ GEO does not house people in overcrowded rooms with chainlink cages at its Facilities, but provides beds, bedding, air conditioning, indoor and outdoor recreational spaces, soccer fields, classrooms, libraries, and other amenities that rebut ‘Messiah’’s defamatory falsehoods,” the complaint states.

The suit includes colorful photographs of libraries, classrooms and recreation facilities at GEO detention centers.

Except that it has a reputation for all of the issues above, no matter how many pretty pictures the company includes in its filing. And trademark and defamation laws, whatever teeth they might have, can't pierce the First Amendment's protections on artistic representation in a work of fiction.

Netflix tends to be fairly good about fighting back on these sorts of things. Hopefully they'll do so in this case as well.

Filed Under: censorship, defamation, detention centers, fiction, private prisons, trademark
Companies: geo group, netflix


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2020 @ 9:00pm

    the infamous Pinkerton Consluting & Investigations company

    I think they'd have a better reputation if that were actually their name

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 10:41pm

    Geo Group provides those children-in-cages facilities.

    You know those places where ICE packs their captives at double occupancy plus, doesn't give them beds, toiletries or chances to clean themselves and through which COVID-19 has blazed through like desert grass in fire season?

    Yeah, many of them are GEO.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 2 Jun 2020 @ 10:54pm

    If nothing else, Geo probably does have a "model" prison which consists of all of the wonderful features mentioned in the company brochure.

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 11:28pm

    "The suit includes colorful photographs of libraries, classrooms and recreation facilities at GEO detention centers."

    ...and if I'm not mistaken, the Nazis had colourful documents available about how nice the concentration camps were, with the full extent of the horrors within not documented until they were liberated by the Allies after the war.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Jun 2020 @ 11:30pm

    Always entertaining..

    Its always made me wonder about Privatization..
    HOW is anything they Do PRIVATE, when they are holding State/fed prisoners.
    Its funny that My state ships Out prisoners to a few other states, and WE PAY for it.
    For all the money in the system you would THINK that County jails would get fair food. NOPE..Barely a breakfast, and 2 baloney sandwiches at night.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2020 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Always entertaining..

      Simple answer:

      Privatized Profit, socialized expenses...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2020 @ 7:53am

      Re: Always entertaining..

      For all the money in the system you would THINK that County jails would get fair food. NOPE..Barely a breakfast, and 2 baloney sandwiches at night.

      The same sort of questions should be being asked about our privately-owned old folks' homes. A few thousand dollars per resident per month to deliver overcrowding and a cesspool of COVID19, but they're very profitable for their owners. Governments make a token attempt to regulate these, but it's not enough to prevent them from sickening (and killing) many in the quest for huge profits.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 2:29am

    "The inmates do not have beds, are kept in overcrowded conditions and surrounded by chain-link fences."

    Well then discovery will me lit.
    You might be able to keep the media and congress people out, but a Judge will put your CEOs ass in jail for contempt.

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

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 4:14am

    Private prisons are a parasite that feeds on the misery of the poor and minorities. Netflix could produce a twelve episode animated series featuring their CEOs curbstomping puppies and it still wouldn't damage their reputation any more than the reality of what they do.

    You put poor people in cages for profit and try to do so for as little money as possible.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2020 @ 6:00am

    "The suit claims that the show depicts the facility in a defamatory light."

    This means that discovery will uncover much more abuse that previously known?

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

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 6:00am

    Bad incentives yield bad results

    Private prisons are such a bad idea it is hard to know where to start. And the entire law enforcement / prison / industrial complex is full of bad incentives and the predictable bad results.

    And this lawsuit was filed on the 27th? Really? C'mon, guys, read the room.

    I know, the "entered into the docket" date may not be when it was actually started, but I bet that up until that date Geo lawyers probably could have pulled it (for whatever made up reason) and waited until . . . well . . . anytime but now.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2020 @ 8:52am

    Knowing GEO, the timing of the lawsuit was only about the money it cost. With GEO / CORE it is always very much about money and how not to spend any.

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

  • icon
    Celyxise (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 10:07am

    Private Logos on TV

    I've always been under the impression that film/tv productions needed licenses to carry private companies logos, what with so many water bottles and t-shirts with branding removed or replaced with fictional brands. Is there a difference here?

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

    • icon
      Celyxise (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 10:13am

      Re: Private Logos on TV

      After a bit of research, it seems to all revolve around Fair Use. Unfortunately that means its legal but expensive to defend, what a wonderful system we have.

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

    • icon
      Upstream (profile), 3 Jun 2020 @ 11:00am

      Re: Private Logos on TV

      I have wondered about this, too. Sometimes there is clear product placement of real brands / logos (just thinly veiled paid advertising for a product). Sometimes there is use of clearly fictional brand names & logos (like Caf-Pow or Beltway Burgers in NCIS). And sometimes there is use of logos, in particular, that closely resemble actual brand logos, but are altered somewhat, ie very similar design but different text (like the coffee resembling Starbucks® or the hot sauce resembling Tabasco® in NCIS). I always knew the issues involved were paid or not, fair-use or not, etc, but I have always been curious about the details. Particularly the choice between clearly fictional versus look-alike. In the case of NCIS, both Caf-Pow (fictional) and coffee (look-alike) are recurrent, semi-integral parts of the characters / story line. Why the different approaches?

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 3 Jun 2020 @ 7:14pm

    Two words

    Jesus Christ!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2020 @ 10:19am

    Oh how I pray this lawsuit gets to the "discovery" phase. The popcorn would be glorious

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


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