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Legal Update: California judge tosses Noriega case against Activision

Game lawyer Zachary Strebeck takes a look at Activision’s success in fighting off a right of publicity lawsuit by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

Zachary Strebeck, Blogger

November 12, 2014

4 Min Read

reported a few months ago on the Right of Publicity case filed by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega against Activision. At issue was the portrayal of Noriega in Activision’s game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Since the initial complaint, Activision recruited former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani to represent them in the suit. In response to Noriega’s allegations, Activision filed an Anti-SLAPP motion to shut the case down before it even really started.

Anti-SLAPP motions:

An Anti-SLAPP motion is a type of motion filed when there is a lawsuit that involves an attack on First Amendment protections. The acronym stands for Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, for those keeping score at home. Basically, when there is a work protected under First Amendment free speech protections, like a film, play or video game, lawsuits meant to shut down that work are subject to the SLAPP laws in California.

There are a few advantages to filing an Anti-SLAPP motion, at least when you are the defendant. First, it can stop a trial before it begins. You don’t have to go through the expense of filing a motion for summary judgment, going through extensive discovery and actually defending yourself at trial (all really expensive and time-consuming stuff). Instead, a favorable ruling on the motion by a judge can avoid all of this. Second, a successful Anti-SLAPP motion allows the defendant to recover the attorneys’ fees that they’ve spent defending against the lawsuit.

Noriega’s case:

Following Activision’s filing of the motion, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted the motion and dismissed the case on Oct. 28. While Noriega had argued that Activision’s appropriation of his name and likeness was a violation of his right of publicity, the court agreed with Activision’s argument that their First Amendment free speech rights were more important. The use of Noriega’s likeness, the court said, was transformative enough to overcome this right of publicity claim.

Additionally, Activision warned of a “chilling effect” that a ruling in Noriega’s favor would bring, stopping others from attempting to create dramatic works featuring “historical and political figures.”

So, for now, it appears that this dispute is over. If new news arises in the matter, I’ll post an update.

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