CHICAGO (CN) – A woman who lamented a heckler backstage with Joan Rivers cannot challenge her surprise appearance in a documentary, the 7th Circuit ruled.
In “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” filmmakers followed the 76-year-old, Brooklyn-born comedian as she performed on the road and spent time with family.
The 2010 film includes a clip of Rivers making a Helen Keller joke in front of an audience at the Lake of Torches Casino in northern Wisconsin.
One audience member interrupted the set to say that he had a deaf son and found the joke offensive. Showcasing her iconic tenacity, Rivers fired at the heckler from the stage.
“Oh please, you are so stupid,” Rivers said. “Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with things. You idiot. My mother is deaf, you stupid son of a bitch. Don’t tell me.”
The film then shows Rivers autographing copies of her book after the show and receiving sympathy from another audience member over the heated words.
That woman, who has since identified herself as Ann Bogie, ultimately filed suit, claiming that she never gave the filmmakers permission to use the 16-second clip.
Bogie said the film depicts her condoning condescending remarks that Rivers made about the state of Wisconsin, its citizens, and the heckler.
U.S. District Judge William Conley ultimately granted summary judgment to Rivers, whose birth name is Joan Rosenberg, as well as IFC Films, Break Thru Films and a trio of producers.
Conley reasoned that no reasonable person could have considered the backstage area private and that the alleged intrusion on Bogie’s privacy could not be considered highly offensive.
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed Thursday.
“Assuming that Bogie was invited backstage, that would not advance her claim of a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the panel. “The film shows that any such invitation was to obtain a backstage autograph from a celebrity in the presence of several security personnel and a film crew. No reasonable person would expect privacy in that situation.”
Even performers cannot count on privacy backstage, the court said, citing precedent from PETA v. Bobby Berosini.
The visible presence of crew members, security personal and film crew only weakened Bogie’s claims, according to the ruling.
Wisconsin law requires Bogie to reveal the intrusion as “highly offensive,” but she failed in that regard, the panel found.
“The fact that Bogie was embarrassed to be filmed saying something she regrets having said and now deems offensive does not convert the filming itself into a highly offensive intrusion,” Hamilton wrote.
Bogie’s misappropriation of image claim also failed since Rivers clearly meets the newsworthiness exception.
Applying the common-law incidental-use exception as well, Hamilton added that Bogie’s image is “merely incidental to the film.”
Conley dismissed Bogie’s complaint with prejudice, finding that any amendments would be futile.
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