Borat

Borat Borat Borat lawsuit law litigation legal Borat Borat Borat.JPGLast 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)

Borat Above the Law Legal Blog Law Gossip Borat.JPGSeveral months ago, the world was awash in Borat litigation. But then things died down on that front.
Now they’re heating up again. From a tipster:

Check out this lawsuit. Although the damages claim might be a little silly, it seems like this guy might have a valid claim — he didn’t sign a waiver like those frat boys.

I’m a corporate lawyer, so I have no idea. I’d love to see what some litigator types think about it.

An excerpt from the complaint appears at Gothamist; the entire document is posted over at The Smoking Gun.
Your thoughts are welcome, in the comments.
NYC Borat Victim: Movie “Very Nice…Not!” [Gothamist]
“Borat” Sued Yet Again [The Smoking Gun]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Borat lawsuits (scroll down)

Borat Above the Law Legal Blog Law Gossip Borat.JPGJust a few minutes ago, Sacha Baron Cohen — who is surprisingly good-looking without the goofy Borat hair and moustache — accepted a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy).
The final line of his acceptance speech:

“I’d like to thank everyone who has not sued me.”

(Random observation: Given his Cambridge education, we were expecting Baron Cohen’s British accent to sound more “upper-crusty.”)
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Borat-related litigation (scroll down)


smell smelly NYU law library.jpgHere’s our recap of the past week in ATL, completely free of Biglaw or bonus news (which will be summarized in a separate “Week in Review” post).
The theme for this week’s news: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
* Hardworking lawyers are still unhappy with their sex lives.
* Celebrities still get in legal trouble (and so do state court judges).
* Borat-related lawsuits still keep getting filed.
* The Duke lacrosse team rape case is still FUBAR.
* Law school libraries are still foul-smelling at the height of final exams.
* Pro se litigants are STILL AWESOME.
* Senator Orrin Hatch is still on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
* Justice Breyer is still concerned about sectarian violence in the 17th century.
* Eumi Choi is still our idol.
* Working for the government still offers many young lawyers more interesting work, and greater responsibility, than Biglaw life (but without a five-figure bonus).
* Also, public interest work still attracts some of the most promising law school graduates.
Have a good weekend, everyone!

Borat Above the Law Legal Blog Law Gossip Borat.JPGIt’s only a matter of time before BNA starts publishing a Borat Law Reporter. There have been a few developments in this area since we last checked in.
First, a victory for the defendants:

Two college fraternity buddies shown guzzling alcohol and making racist remarks in the “Borat” movie have lost their bid for a court order to cut the scene they claim has tarnished their reputations….

At the time the suit was filed, a judge denied the pair’s request for a temporary restraining order that would remove footage of them from the film, but the plaintiffs were given a another chance to seek an injunction at a hearing last week.

The South Carolina college students lost again when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Biderman ruled they had failed to show a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their case or that money damages alone would be insufficient to resolve their claims.

Second, another lawsuit, based on Borat footage that didn’t make the movie (but was shown on TV):

A South Carolina man has sued Ristorante Divino, claiming that it allowed a “Borat” film crew to film him while using the restaurant’s bathroom. The man also is suing Sasha Baron Cohen, the actor who played Borat, who he said made comments about his genitals. Comedy Central also is named in the lawsuit for showing the clip, which was not included in the movie.

This might be one of the more meritorious Borat lawsuits. The plaintiff is somewhat sympathetic, at least if the Althouse commenters are a representative bunch. And it’s not clear if he signed a release, as did the frat boys.
Borat has made a ton of money — over $225 million in worldwide grosses. Maybe 20th Century Fox should take some of that loot and use it to set up a Borat Litigation Trust?
L.A. judge sides with “Borat” against frat boys [Reuters]
S.C. man sues Columbia restaurant over ‘Borat’ movie [The State via Althouse]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Borat (scroll down)

Borat Above the Law Legal Blog Law Gossip Borat.JPGThe latest news in the world of Borat-related litigation:

A judge on Monday told lawyers who filed a $30 million lawsuit accusing the makers of the hit movie “Borat” of misleading residents of a remote Romanian village that they must make specific allegations in their lawsuit if they want it to have a chance at success.

The lawyers said they would refile the lawsuit, which alleged the residents were duped into participating into what they thought was a documentary that would benefit them rather than the comedy hit “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska reminded the lawyers that the lawsuit would have to have specific enough facts alleging the villagers were misled before she could order defendants to turn over documents that might help the villagers build their case.

Judge Preska, by the way, is a super-stylish judicial hottie. Perhaps the defendants will refuse to settle the case, insisting on going to trial, just so Borat can have a little “sexytime” in her courtroom.
Update: We completely agree with this comment, by TJ. Every “hip” Civil Procedure professor in the country is going to use a “Borat” hypothetical for his or her final exam.
NYC Judge Questions Villagers’ ‘Borat’ Lawsuit [Associated Press]
Judicial SIGHT-ations: Federal Judges Busting Out All Over! [Underneath Their Robes]

Pamela Anderson Above the Law Kid Rock Pamela Anderson Lee.jpgBut we can’t bring ourselves to do it. Maybe this guy can do some caring for us.
Actually, the Borat connection may be the only vaguely interesting thing about the Pamela Anderson/Kid Rock divorce (court papers filed yesterday). From Page Six:

[Hollywood producer] “Ron Meyer held a screening of ‘Borat’ at his house for a bunch of people, including Pam and Bob [Ritchie, aka Kid Rock],” says an Anderson pal. “It was the first time Bob had seen the movie, and, well, he didn’t like it.”

The hugely popular film shows Sasha Baron Cohen – in character as Borat Sagdiyev – falling in love with Anderson after seeing her in a “Baywatch” rerun, then driving across America in order to propose marriage to her.

Her friend tells Page Six, “Bob started screaming at Pam, saying she had humiliated herself and telling her, ‘You’re nothing but a whore! You’re a slut! How could you do that movie?’ – in front of everyone. It was very embarrassing.

It looks like Pam will be getting her revenge. Anderson has retained high-flying celebrity divorce lawyer Neal R. Hersh, one of the name partners in Hersh, Mannis & Bogen, a top family law boutique in Los Angeles.
One of Neal Hersh’s fellow partners is Judy Bogen, who represented Kim Basinger in her ugly divorce from Alec Baldwin. And Baldwin is no Bogen fan, describing her as a “hideously angry-looking woman,” whose face “looks like a cross between a bulldog and a clenched fist.”
An ATL commenter agrees with Baldwin:

My ex-wife hired Judy Bogen to represent her, and I can confirm Mr. Baldwin’s description of this vile female. He forgot to mention her four inch long fingernails, which obviously hadn’t touched a keyboard and were likely reserved for tearing the heart and soul out of her female clients’ unfortunate spouses.

We eat this stuff up. If you have any other good stories about divorce lawyers from hell, feel free to email them to us.
Pam Anderson Files for Divorce [TMZ.com]
Pam Splits Over Kid Blowup [New York Post]
Neal Hersh bio [FindLaw]
Earlier: Gee, Alec, Tell Us How You Really Feel
Prior ATL coverage of Borat (scroll down)

Borat Borat Borat lawsuit law litigation legal Borat Borat Borat.JPG* Another week, another Borat lawsuit.
* Wow — it doesn’t take much to get lawyers all hot and bothered. But ATL readers were evidently untroubled.
* Merry Christmas. There will be no O.J. Simpson book.
* But no Britney sex tape, either.
* Wesley Snipes has some harsh words for the IRS. And Judge Posner does, too.
* We hung out a lot with the Federalist Society. We watched the social conservatives and the libertarians slug it out over cultural issues. And we learned that Judge Edith Jones isn’t the woman we thought she was.

Borat Above the Law Legal Blog Law Gossip Borat.JPGThe Borat litigation juggernaut rolls on. And Fox, the studio behind the hit movie, is fighting back:

Fox attorneys filed a legal brief Monday slamming a request for a preliminary injunction against the hit comedy “Borat” as a “fatuous” attempt to thwart free speech, even as the studio’s legal battle spread to a second front.

“Plaintiffs may claim that they were tricked ‘into making fools out of themselves’ and becoming ‘unsuspecting players’ in the movie ‘Borat,’ ” the studio said in opposing the request. “They never contend … that bigoted and misogynistic statements were put into their mouths.”

The plaintiffs are the two fraternity brothers who are suing the studio for depicting them as bigots and misogynists — after they made, on camera, bigoted and misogynistic statements.
The frat boys may not be terribly sympathetic plaintiffs. But they’re not the only ones suing over Borat:

[A]ttorneys representing a pair of villagers in Glod, Romania, filed a $30 million lawsuit over their roles in “Borat.”

Filed in U.S. District Court in New York, the suit seeks to stop distribution of the film until scenes showing plaintiffs Nicolae Todorache and Spiridom Ciorebea are removed.

It didn’t take long for plaintiffs’ lawyers to discover Bhopal. What took them so long to find Glod?
Fox Fires Back at “Borat” Suit [Hollywood Reporter]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Borat (scroll down)

Borat Above the Law Legal Blog Law Gossip Borat.JPGLitigation surrounding Sacha Baron Cohen’s controversial comedy, Borat, is turning into a cottage industry for the legal profession. Here’s the latest news:

The owner of an etiquette business who was handed a plastic bag supposedly containing feces in the hit movie “Borat” says she was [falsely] told the filming would be used for a documentary in Belarus.

Cindy Streit said she filed a complaint Thursday with California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, requesting an investigation into possible violations of the California Unfair Trade Practices Act.

For those of you who haven’t the film, here’s a description of the scene in question:

Streit said she arranged in Alabama both a sit-down session with Borat, played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and a dinner party with some of her friends…. Though awkward at times, the dinner went well until Borat asked to use the bathroom, Streit said.

“I had taught him to excuse himself. He did that correctly and went upstairs,” Streit told The Associated Press. “The next thing that happened is that he came down the stairs holding this plastic bag with whatever was in it.”

“My horror was that he had brought a bag of feces to my dinner table.”

Would-be Borats, consider yourselves warned: Cindy Streit doesn’t take any s**t.
Fun fact: Streit is represented by Gloria Allred, the colorful California litigatrix (and mother of Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom).
Etiquette Coach Files ‘Borat’ Complaint [Associated Press]

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