In the past few years there has been a number of libel claims based on an unfavorable portrayal of a real person in either a television program or motion picture that is based on real life events.  To name a few, there is the currently pending Mossack Fonseca & Co., S.A. et al v. Netflix Inc., which is based on the streamer’s portrayal of Panamanian lawyers in the feature The Laundromat which was about the “Panama Papers” leaked documents scandal, and there is also the currently pending  Fairstein v. Netflix, Ava Duvernay and Attica Lock involving a defamation claim over the portrayal of Linda Fairstein, a former NYC prosecutor, in the Netflix series, When They See Us which was about the trial of the Central Park Five.  There was also the now resolved Green v. Paramount Pictures that was discussed in a previous article, and there was the false light claim made in Olivia De Havilland v. FX Networks LLC over De Havilland’s portrayal in the FX docudrama Feud: Bette and Joan.

These cases are primarily based on a claim of defamation, usually liable which is a written defamation.  In California, libel is defined by Civil Code Section 45 as “a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.”  In most states, libel is defined similarly.  In order to establish libel, a plaintiff will have to establish: that the statements were defamatory; that the statements were published to third parties; that the statements were false; and that it was reasonably understood by the third parties that the statements were about the plaintiff.
Continue Reading “Inspired By” Characters in Movies and TV – Defamation Lawsuit As a Spinoff