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L.A. Judge Dismisses Manuel Noriega’s ‘Call of Duty’ Suit Against Activision

A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge has dismissed former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s right of publicity lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, which featured his likeness in the game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”

Superior Court Judge William F. Fahey wrote that Activision’s use of Noriega’s image in the game was transformative, and that the “marketability and economic value in this case comes not from Noriega, but from the creativity, skill and reputation of” the videogame developer.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was among the attorneys who argued for Activision in a hearing earlier this month, and he warned that should Noriega prevail, it would diminish the free speech rights of Hollywood creatives and other authors, particularly in the genre of historical fiction.

“This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we’re gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn’t win,” Giuliani said in a statement. He argued the case along with Kelly Klaus of Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Noriega’s attorney, William T. Gibbs, argued that his client’s case wasn’t about “the mere mention of someone in an historical novel; it’s the use of someone’s image and likeness” without their permission. Noriega is serving a prison sentence in Panama after being ousted as that country’s leader following the U.S. invasion in 1989.

Gibbs also cited prior court rulings in favor of the band No Doubt, which argued that Activision used its likenesses outside the bounds of a licensing agreement. But Fahey noted that while the use of the likenesses of No Doubt in the Band Hero game hinged on the commercial interest in the band’s fame, the use of Noriega’s likeness in the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” game was not the very “sum and substance” of the work.

“The complex and multifaceted game is a product of defendants own expression, with de minimis use of Noriega’s likeness,” Fahey wrote.


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