Last year we provided extensive coverage of litigation arising out of Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen’s raunchy hit film. Things have been generally quiet on that front, but now we have some news. Sewell Chan reports over at the City Room:
Was Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 film “Borat” a pure slapstick comedy? Does it have a measure of redeeming value as a societal commentary? A federal judge considered these questions before dismissing a lawsuit filed by a man who was randomly accosted — and touched — by Mr. Cohen on a Midtown street. The judge concluded that the movie “appeals to the most childish and vulgar in its viewers” but does make an effort to offer a critique of American society.
Reached for comment, Borat said: “Dismissal of lawsuit: Is nice! Borat want to meet Judge Preska and make sexytime under her robe.”
In general, the civil rights law prohibits using a private person’s name, portrait or likeness for “advertising purposes or the purposes of trade” without the person’s written permission. But as a judge, Loretta A. Preska of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, noted in a nine-page ruling on Monday, state courts have interpreted the ban narrowly, as “strictly limited to nonconsensual commercial appropriations of the name, portrait or picture of a living person.”
The ban does not apply to “newsworthy events or matters of public interest,” and “newsworthiness” has been taken to include “not only descriptions of actual events, but also articles concerning political happenings, social trends or any subject of public interest.”
Here’s an excerpt from Judge Preska’s opinion:
Of course, the movie employs as its chief medium a brand of humor that appeals to the most childish and vulgar in its viewers. At its core, however, “Borat” attempts an ironic commentary of “modern” American culture, contrasting the backwardness of its protagonist with the social ills [that] afflict supposedly sophisticated society. The movie challenges its viewers to confront not only the bizarre and offensive Borat character himself, but the equally bizarre and offensive reactions he elicits from “ordinary” Americans. Indeed, its message lies in that juxtaposition and the implicit accusation that “the time will come when it will disgust you to look in a mirror.” Such clearly falls within the wide scope of what New York courts have held to be a matter of public interest.
You can read the complete City Room post over here. Did Judge Preska get it right? Feel free to voice your view in the comments.
Judge Dismisses Suit Over ‘Borat’ [New York Times]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Borat litigation (scroll down)