This summer’s news that deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was suing Call of Duty: Black Ops II maker Activision for inappropriate use of his likeness has the making of a nuisance lawsuit without much merit. A Los Angeles judge agreed with that assessment today, ruling that Noriega’s lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice.
In his ruling [PDF], Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William H. Fahey noted that “Noriega’s right of publicity is outweighed by defendants’ First Amendment right to free expression.” Fahey said Activision proved conclusively that Noriega was already known as a “notorious public figure,” and that Noriega “failed to provide any evidence of harm to his reputation. Indeed, given the world-wide reporting of his actions in the 1980s and early 1990s, it is hard to imagine that any such evidence exists.”
The ruling leaned heavily on reasoning laid out in a 2010 case brought against Activision by the band No Doubt, in which the group complained that its image was used in inappropriate ways in Guitar Hero. Unlike that case, here Fahey found that Activision’s use of Noriega’s likeness was “transformative,” constituting “caricature, parody, and satire” that did not make up “the very sum and substance” of the work.
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