Activision Blizzard has brought in former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to help out in a bizarre, high-profile court case, where the publisher is being sued by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega over his depiction in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Giuliani’s role is largely to bring the voice of common sense into the matter, as Activision Blizzard moves to dismiss the “frivolous” suit. He will serve as co-counsel on the matter, defending the company on the grounds that Noriega’s appearance in Black Ops II is protected under the U.S. right to free speech.
It’s more than just that, though. Giuliani is also there to raise awareness of the uncomfortable precedent that could be set if Noriega is successful in his litigation.
Simply put: If Noriega wins the case, Giuliani believes that it would “open the floodgates” to figures like Osama bin Laden’s family members, Bashir Assad or Fidel Castro to demand permission or payment whenever they are featured in TV shows, books, movies and – of course – video games.
It would destroy, to a very, very large extent, the creative genre that is historic fiction.
That historic fiction is not necessarily limited to the portrayal of apparent “bad guys”, as the publisher explains in its brief, referring to books like Ragtime and films like Forrest Gump, and even TV series like Saturday Night Live:
Accepting Noriega’s claim that a historical figure cannot be portrayed without his consent would chill these and other countless other works — from ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ to ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’.
Noriega is currently serving a prison sentence in Panama. He says he was “was portrayed as an antagonist as the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes, creating the false impression that defendants are authorized to use plaintiff’s image and likeness,” and is claiming for violation of right of publicity, unjust enrichment and unfair competition.
The publisher is citing California’s anti-SLAPP law, which prevents litigation from being used to suppress free speech. It’s been explained that Noriega did not build his image through any ‘artistic labour’. “His notoriety stems entirely from his role in widely known historical events as a dictator and convicted criminal,” attorneys for the studio report.
Activision Blizzard argues that Noriega’s likeness appears in a small part of Black Ops II set in South America and Panama in the late 1980s. His image is not mentioned in reviews, and he is not a focus of the game.
The case is set to be heard on October 16 in Los Angeles Superior Court.