Lifetime Ducks Lawsuit Over Movie on NY Killer

     PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (CN) – A made-for-TV movie trading in the “newsworthiness” of a grisly murder did not violate the killer’s rights to his name and image, a judge ruled.
     Christopher Porco, a former Albany-area college student convicted in 2006 of killing his father with an ax and maiming his mother, sued Lifetime Entertainment Services just before the planned airing of “Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story” in March 2013.
     Lifetime, a subsidiary of A&E Television Networks, portrayed the movie as based on the real-life “fierce mission” of a local police detective to prove that Porco committed the 2004 crimes that shocked the sleepy suburban community of Delmar, N.Y.
     Porco is serving 50 years to life in a state maximum-security prison in Clinton County.
     In a pro-se lawsuit, Porco sought to block broadcast of the two-hour movie, alleging it violated a provision of state civil rights law that bars use of the “name, portrait or picture of any living person” for the purposes of advertising or trade without written consent.
     Although Porco won a temporary restraining order from the Clinton County Supreme Court, Lifetime quickly had it lifted and the movie aired as scheduled. A year later, an appeals panel in Albany vacated the order as an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.
     Lifetime then moved to dismiss the complaint.
     Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller ruled for Lifetime on April 15, saying that, while Porco contended the movie was a “substantially fictionalized account” of his life and the crime, “nowhere does he allege that the movie is so infected with fiction, dramatization or embellishment that it cannot be said to fulfill the purposes of the newsworthiness exception.”
     Muller, citing precedent, noted that it long has been recognized that “use of a name or picture by the media in connection with a newsworthy item is protected by the First Amendment and is not considered a use for purposes of trade within the gambit of the civil rights law.”
     When something portrayed as newsworthy is “so infected with fiction, dramatization or embellishment,” however, the exception for newsworthiness does not apply, he said.
     Porco cited similarities between his case and ones in 1912 and 1967 in which courts found that the biographical portrayals were more fiction than fact, and “were nothing more than attempts to trade on the persona” of their subjects.
     Porco’s “perfunctory allegations” of the same against Lifetime stand in stark contrast, however, to his description of the movie, the court found, noting that from the opening paragraphs Porco talked about the extensive local and national media coverage that the case generated.
     “Plaintiff includes no allegations whatsoever to suggest that defendant invented a biography of his life or wholly imagined the events at issues in an attempt to trade on his persona,” Muller wrote.
     “Even construing the complaint liberally and according plaintiff the benefit of every favorable inference, the court finds that he has failed to state a cause of action for violation [of civil rights law].”
     David Schulz of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Manhattan represented Lifetime.

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