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National Geographic Prevails in Fight|Over Hasselhoff Film

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The First Amendment protects the National Geographic Channel from a legal battle between a documentary producer and actor David Hasselhoff over two films about the Berlin Wall, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Oneworld Language Solutions and Owls Media sued Hasselhoff in July, claiming that after appearing in their documentary about the origins of his song "Looking for Freedom," he hosted another film called "Hasselhoff vs. the Berlin Wall," which aired on National Geographic Channel in September.

But Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff on Wednesday terminated production company Darlow Smithson and National Geographic Channels International from the case, granting a motion to dismiss under California's anti-SLAPP statute.

Beckloff also struck a request for an injunction against "Hasselhoff vs. the Berlin Wall."

"There is no question that but for defendant's actions in regard to casting Mr. Hasselhoff, making the documentary, and distributing the documentary and the [accompanying] press release, we wouldn't be here," Judge Beckloff said. "It's all about the creation of a television show, and how it was cast and what the idea for it was. And it was all about the creation of a public broadcast."

The ruling does not spell the end of the plaintiff's claims.

Owls Media owners Mark Hayes and his wife Gabriele Hayes may still pursue their breach of contract and fraud claims against Hasselhoff. They were present when Beckloff handed down his ruling, but declined to comment.

Their attorney Jeffrey Konvitz said he was "disappointed" by the decision but said he would discuss the case with his clients and "go on from there."

"The case continues for Hasselhoff and his manager," Konvitz said.

Hasselhoff's attorney Jim Curry, with Sheppard Mullin, said "the decision was right," and that he believed the "same arguments" will allow Hasselhoff to win.

Owls Media said it agreed to pay Hasselhoff a $25,000 advance to appear in the film, provisionally titled "Mr. Hasselhoff, Tear Down the Wall," plus 15 percent of the producer's net profits.

But Hasselhoff's manager Eric Gardner later arranged for Hasselhoff to appear in "Hasselhoff vs. the Berlin Wall," wrecking any chance Owls Media had of recouping the money it invested, it claimed.

During the morning hearing at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A., Judge Beckloff said that Owls Media's claim for damages was speculative because it appeared there was no buyer for the Hayes' film.

"I don't have any evidence of who was interested in it," Beckloff said. "I don't have any evidence that there was anybody that had come around and expressed interest in it."

Beckloff was skeptical that the plaintiffs would prevail on a claim that they had an agreement with Hasselhoff to appear in a film that would be "unique."

"I'm not sure that's there's a probability of prevailing on the merits on this issue," the judge added.

Released in 1989, "Looking for Freedom" was a No. 1 hit in the former West Germany. Hasselhoff performed the song at the Berlin Wall on New Year's Eve 1989, just months after it fell.

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