Recently we’ve heard of Rockstar being sued by Lindsey Lohan over the alleged use of her likeness in Grand Theft Auto 5. In the true spirit of spectacle creep, Activision has outdone its competitors by being sued by an ex-dictator over the the alleged use of his likeness in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
The plaintiff, the now 80-year-old ex-dictator Manuel Noriega, is suing Activision over the “blatant misuse, unlawful exploitation and misappropriation [of his likeness] for economic gain” in Treyarch’s Black Ops 2.
Noriega was the military dictator of Panama from 1983 until he was removed in 1989 by US military force. He was tried and imprisoned in April 1992. When his sentence ended in 2007, France was granted its extradition request and Noriega once again went to trial and then prison. A conditional release was granted in 2011 for Noriega to be extradited to serve 20 years in Panama.
In the Blacks Ops 2, you are tasked with tracking down Noriega to the outskirts of Panama City, where you must bring him in for questioning. Noriega claims that Treyarch’s game, published by Activision, portrays him “as a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.”
Noreiga’s lawyers have claimed in their lawsuit, filed at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, that “In an effort to increase the popularity and revenue generated by Black Ops 2, defendants used, without authorization or consent, the image and likeness of plaintiff in Black Ops 2.”
“Defendants’ use of plaintiff’s image and likeness caused damage to plaintiff. Plaintiff was portrayed as an antagonist and portrayed as the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes, creating the false impression that defendants are authorized to use plaintiff’s image and likeness. This caused plaintiffs to receive profits they would not have otherwise received.”
This is all an attempt to “heighten realism in its video game”, Noriega said. “This translates directly into heightened sales for defendants.”
“Defendants deliberately and systematically misappropriated plaintiff’s likeness to increase revenues and royalties, at the expense of plaintiff and without the consent of plaintiff.”
Noriega is suing for damages for unjust enrichment, unfair business practices and violation of common-law publicity rights, as well as lost profits.
Activision is yet to file its response, though it seems that they not have a case to answer to, as the legal precedent for the case is somewhat unclear, as videogames, entertainment and tech lawyer Jas Purewal explained to the BBC.
“In the US, individuals have what’s called the right to publicity, which gives them control over how their person is depicted in commerce including video games. It all focuses upon the American legal ability for an individual to be only depicted with their permission, which in practice means payment of a fee. But Noriega isn’t a US citizen or even a resident. This means that his legal claim becomes questionable, because it’s unclear on what legal basis he can actually bring a case against Activision.”
The scene where Noriega is captured in Black Ops 2 can be seen below.