You know, when it comes to publicity rights, that expansion of law that masturbates celebrity egos like no other, I can laugh it off when we hear from the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Katherine Heigl, and Dan Snyder. I mean, sure they’re famous and rich, but they still probably deserve that famous Hitchhiker’s Guide designation of “mostly harmless.” That their attacks on anyone who dares make even the barest reference to their holy visages typically fail usually serves as enough mental closure in my mind to keep the dogs from barking in my head at night.
Manuel Noriega, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal and his lawsuit against Activision over his portrayal in a Call of Duty game just makes me angry…
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.
So let’s get this straight: an octogenarian former dictator of Panama, who has been tried and convicted in two separate countries and is currently residing in a prison in Panama, is suing a United States video game publisher over his depiction? Now can we all go ahead and admit publicity rights are ridiculous? And Noriega’s suit is a special brand of silly, according to entertainment lawyer Jas Purewal.
“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.”
It’s strange that we even have to ask the question, isn’t it? The same status Noriega enjoys as a public and historical figure is being used to protect his depiction as a public and historical figure. If we allow publicity rights to dominate the public interest in commenting and portraying public figures, even for entertainment purposes, where is that going to end? That Noriega’s age puts him perilously close to crossing the line of all of this being applied to the deceased is even more worrisome. Perhaps the families of long-dead historical devils will look to bury their lineage’s history in publicity rights law if this sort of thing is allowed to go on unchecked.
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