TACOMA, Wash. (CN) – Michael Moore successfully defended his documentary film “Sicko” against charges of invasion of privacy and misappropriation of likeness when a federal judge ruled that Moore had a free-speech right to use a man’s home video footage without permission.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Strombom ruled late last month that Moore’s use of the video is protected speech under the Washington Act Limiting Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or anti-SLAPP law, because the film’s subject is the U.S. health care crisis, “an issue of public concern.”
Ken Aronson sued Moore’s production company, Dog Eat Dog Films, over about a minute of footage from a home video he shot of his 1997 trip to England with Eric Turnbow.
“Aronson asserts that the resulting footage of the shared trip is his property,” the ruling states.
Moore used the video clip in “Sicko” to contrast the experiences of patients who received health care in the United States with those of Americans who received care abroad.
One of Moore’s vignettes tells the story of Turnbow’s experience in a U.K. hospital and shows the footage Aronson filmed and briefly appeared in with Turnbow.
Dog Eat Dog Films moved to dismiss the state-law privacy and misappropriation claims under Washington’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects defendants from lawsuits aimed at suppressing speech.
Strombom agreed that Moore had a free-speech right to include the footage.
“Although involuntarily thrust into the healthcare discussion, Plaintiff’s appearance in the documentary is not tangential to the subject of the documentary, but is directly connected to the discussion of the healthcare system,” Strombom wrote.
“It is beyond dispute that the documentary film ‘Sicko’ relates to matters of public interest and is entitled to the First Amendment protection,” she added. “The appropriation of Plaintiff’s image and voice are immune from the state law causes of action for misappropriation.”
Dog Eat Dog Films still faces a copyright infringement claim, which was allowed to stand.