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The Courts Games

Manuel Noriega Sues Activision Over Call of Duty 83

mrspoonsi sends this BBC report: Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, is suing Call of Duty's video games publisher. The ex-military ruler is seeking lost profits and damages after a character based on him featured in Activision's 2012 title Black Ops II. The 80-year-old is currently serving a jail sentence in Panama for crimes committed during his time in power, including the murder of critics. One lawyer said this was the latest in a growing trend of such lawsuits. "In the U.S., individuals have what's called the right to publicity, which gives them control over how their person is depicted in commerce including video games," explained Jas Purewal, an interactive entertainment lawyer. "There's also been a very well-known action by a whole series of college athletes against Electronic Arts, and the American band No Doubt took action against Activision over this issue among other cases. "It all focuses upon the American legal ability for an individual to be only depicted with their permission, which in practice means payment of a fee. "But Noriega isn't a US citizen or even a resident. This means that his legal claim becomes questionable, because it's unclear on what legal basis he can actually bring a case against Activision."
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Manuel Noriega Sues Activision Over Call of Duty

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  • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:22PM (#47469343)

    Send him truckloads of unsold "Panama" single cassettes.

  • As much as everyone has reason to hate Manuel Noriega, I want to see him win this, including punitive damages. Activision is that bad of a company.

  • he was still alive.
  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:32PM (#47469451) Homepage Journal
    Manuel Noriega can't even have some nobody VP at Activision eliminated anymore. Back in the 80s he could have had trained assassins at their doorstep within a week.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:35PM (#47469489) Homepage
    Doesn't the US have a law that makes it illegal for a criminal to profit from their crimes in this manner? I know serial killers can't sell their life story rights for a movie or a book.

    Doesn't that same law apply here?

    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:43PM (#47469571)

      Some jurisdictions do have Son of Sam laws [] that are designed to keep criminals from profiting from their criminal pursuits, but from the Wikipedia entry, it sounds like they may be of questionable constitutionality (and that the court has been willing to throw them out), depending on how they are phrased and enforced.

    • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @04:20PM (#47469931)

      Doesn't the US have a law that makes it illegal for a criminal to profit from their crimes in this manner? I know serial killers can't sell their life story rights for a movie or a book.

      Doesn't that same law apply here?

      No, it doesn't. In this case, what he'd be getting paid for has nothing to do with his crimes whatsoever. This isn't about him having sold the rights to his life story, it's about a video game using his likeness and name in a fictitional manner without paying for the right to leverage his public image. Also, it can also be posited (debate whether it's valid or not) that some may believe that some components of the video game have a basis in real life, and thus it would be a form of libel as well. Though, speaking for myself, I'm not sure what about the game was so bad that it'd be worse than what the truth was.

      • The problem with that argument is that Noriega is a public historical figure. That's like saying every author ever has to get it cleared to use Reagan, Bush, Obama or Palin in some context in their stories.

        • Books are different than movies. You might be able to use someone's name and story if they are a public figure in a book but film is treated differently. The courts have basically said you need to pay someone to show them in movies (including even some cases where that applied to their likeness, this is the reason for disclaimers at the end of the movie that all the characters are fictional and not based on real people). This is similar to the reason in a lot of movies the bad guys are masked, the studios g

          • >The courts have basically said you need to pay someone to show them in movies

            I don't recall hearing anything about George W Bush getting a paycheck from Oliver Stone's 2008 movie W:


            Or for that matter, him being shown in Fahrenheit 9/11.

            Nor do I recall the Mercury astronauts getting any compensation for their being portrayed in The Right Stuff, or Apollo 13's astronauts for the movie of the same name. Or Patton for Patton, etc. etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Here is your settlement, one copy of Black Ops 2.

    We did a study and found out that no one has ever heard of you, because no one played single player.

    Good thing we didn't include it in multiplayer, or you might have a valid case.

    • oddly, i can believe that of the COD playerbase.

      i just want COD to suffer... the FPS genre has followed them so far down it feels like they're the Rock, and we're his bottom.

  • ...and clearly they are American. I wonder if they'll settle out of court with a few kilos?

    That's always worked in the past with U.S. deal makers...
  • This is a great ruling. Panamanian companies can release games with characters based on Jennifer Aniston, OJ Simpson, Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh, without legal consequences.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:49PM (#47469645) Homepage

    I find it very strange if I wouldn't have the same standing to sue anyone abusing my likeness in a US court for violation of US law in US jurisdiction as anyone else. For example, if you slander me in a US newspaper why shouldn't I have standing to sue you? If those laws didn't apply to literally everyone, any foreigner would be totally without the protection of the law in every country but their own and there's plenty crimes that can be conducted remotely.

    • Did activation slander him? He was portrayed as a kidnapper, murder, and enemy of the state, and is currently serving time for murder and kidnapping in Panama after spending two decades in a US jail for drug trafficking so those claims are not false. Noriega may have a case in that Activision used his likeness to sell Call of Doodie and he should be compensated for it.
  • If Noriega prevails, Trey Parker and Matt Stone wuld likely owe damanges to the estate of Kim Jong Il, for their unflattering depiction of him in Team America: World Police.

    • I'd say Trey and Matt would have lines that rival Apple fans lining up for new iStuff of people ready to sue them. But I think in their case parody and satire protects them where Activision is going for gritty and realistic.

      But IANAL and all that. I really don't know what to think here; Noriega is scum but laws should apply equally to all, regardless of how much of a dick they are. I know I wouldn't want people profiting off my depiction without my permission. Lucky me, I'm a nobody and don't really have to

    • I don't think North Korea wants to abrogate sovereign power and put themselves under the jurisdiction of a US court, even if it's a civil trial. Most countries go out of their way to avoid giving jurisdiction to foreign courts by filing court cases in those courts.

  • If I'm Activision, I'm claiming that this is Constitutionally protected political speech. If you're the public figure in charge of a country, I feel you lose the right to control how you're depicted in media.

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @04:37PM (#47470079) Journal

    This has come up before in similar cases and the celebrity loses unless their image is used in a way that misleads consumers by implying endorsement of the product.
    For a video game example, see James "Jim" Brown v. Electronic Arts, Inc. Also, Tiger Woods' agent sued regard a painting featuring the golfer, and lost, in ETW Corp. v. Jireh Publishing. Alyssa Milano's mom, Lin Milano, contacted us about her daughter's "right of publicity" 20 years ago and we found we could tell her to take a hike.

    Absent defamation, the celebrity's name and image is protected in a way very similar to a trademark. (In common law jurisdictions, almost _exactly_ like a trademark). You can't sell "Britney Spears" brand headphones without permission, because that would imply that the singer endorses the product, misleading consumers. You CAN sell a comic book titled "Britney Spears is a stupid slut" because nobody will think Ms. Spears endorsed that.

    Of course there can be other causes of action if someone does something else bad and also happens to be using a celebrity's image as well, but it usually comes down to implied endorsement. Laws do vary from one state to another.

  • Team up with Lindsey Lohan and collectively sue the entire videogame industry...
  • He had put his image and likeness out there, not Activision. Videogames often depict reality. But they are videogames, not movies or biographies. Putin belongs in the next Call of Duty.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault