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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Tosses Manuel Noriega’s Lawsuit

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Manuel Noriega's lawsuit against "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" publisher Activision was dismissed Monday, when a judge ruled that the video game is a protected under free speech rights.

"This ruling is an important victory and we thank the court for protecting free speech," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey granted a motion to strike under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Giuliani's firm Bracewell & Giuliani took on the case in September after Noriega filed his lawsuit for violations of his right of publicity on July 15.

"This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we're gratified that in the end a notorious criminal didn't win. This is not just a win for the makers of 'Call of Duty,' but is a victory for works of art across the entertainment and publishing industries throughout the world," Giuliani said.

At an Oct. 16 oral argument, Noriega's attorney, Bill Gibbs of Chicago firm Corboy and Demetrio, argued that Noriega met the low bar established in No Doubt v. Activision Publishing, to show that there was a probability that he would prevail on his claims .

In a 2009 lawsuit , No Doubt claimed that Activision had depicted them in the video game "Band Hero" in a ways that violated a licensing agreement. Activation's use was non-transformative, the California Court of Appeals had found.

But that was not true of Noriega's case, Judge Fahey found.

"In applying these standards to the evidence presented here, this court concludes that Noriega's right of publicity is outweighed by defendants' First Amendment right to free expression," the judge wrote in a 6-page order.

Giuliani argued that artists are free to portray historical figures in works of fiction, movies and other works. Any other finding would violate free speech rights, he said.

"Maybe the next thing that will happen is that Bin Laden's heirs start suing," Giuliani said in downtown L.A. earlier this month after the hearing.

Fahey agreed.

"A brief summary of defendants' uncontroverted evidence conclusively shows that Noriega is a notorious public figure, perhaps one of the more notable historical figures of the 1980's," Judge Fahey wrote.

The evidence makes clear that Noriega's portrayal in the game was minimal, Fahey said.

His character appeared in two of 11 missions for a "matter of minutes" and voiced 30 lines, Fahey said, and Activision had never used Noriega's character to market or advertise the game.

Noriega also provided no evidence to support his claim of unfair business practices, the judge added.

The judge dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

"Call of Duty: Black Ops II" sold more than 24.2 million copies worldwide. It was written by Hollywood screenwriter David Goyer, with music by Trent Reznor.

The franchise's ripped-from-the-headlines plots often include public figures. The franchise has featured depictions of Fidel Castro and President John F. Kennedy.

After the 1989 U.S. invasion, Noriega, who had ruled the country since 1983 as a military dictator, was captured and flown to the United States. He was convicted three years later of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering.

Noriega was later extradited to France, where he was found guilty of murder. He was granted a conditional release on Sept. 23, 2011, and was extradited to Panama later that year, where he is serving 20 years in El Renacer (Rebirth) prison.

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