A U.S. judge has dismissed former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard Inc over his depiction in the popular video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”
Judge William Fahey of Los Angeles Superior Court granted Activision’s special motion to strike the case, under a California statute that seeks to prevent lawsuits stifling free speech. Monday’s ruling was made public on Tuesday.
Noriega filed suit in July, saying Activision had portrayed him as “the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes,” including kidnapping and murder, to heighten the game’s realism and increase sales. He said the company had infringed his right to his own publicity, and sought unspecified damages.
Activision said the use of the character was protected under the right to free speech, and Fahey agreed.
He said Noriega’s right of publicity was outweighed by the defendants’ First Amendment right to free expression, and that there was no evidence of harm to Noriega’s reputation.
“Indeed,” Fahey said, “given the world-wide reporting of his actions in the 1980s and early 1990s, it is hard to imagine that any such evidence exists.”
Activision had warned that if Noriega prevailed, it would have a chilling effect on movies and works of art that portray historical and political figures. Noriega’s character, one of 45, appeared in two of 11 missions in the game, which is set in both the Cold War and in the future.
Noriega said in court documents that he was unaware that his image was being used without his consent until he was advised by his grandchildren.
Noriega was the military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989, when his rule ended with a U.S. invasion. He was later indicted in the United States on drug and racketeering charges. He was convicted in 1992 and imprisoned until 2010, when he was extradited to France to serve a sentence there. France then sent him to Panama, where he remains in prison for crimes committed during his rule.
Activision was represented in the case by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“This ruling is an important victory and we thank the court for protecting free speech,” said Rudy Giuliani in a statement. “This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we’re gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn’t win. This is not just a win for the makers of ‘Call of Duty,’ but is a victory for works of art across the entertainment and publishing industries throughout the world.”
The case is Noriega v. Activision Blizzard, Inc, et al, No. BC 551747 in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Ted Botha and Dan Grebler)
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