Another Biopic lawsuit – This Time Straight Outta Compton

By Jennifer E. Rothman
November 3, 2015

With success often comes lawsuits and the movie Straight Outta Compton is no exception. On Friday, the music manager Jerry Heller sued NBC Universal and others involved with the film claiming that the character in the film played by actor Paul Giamatti misappropriates his identity by using his name and likeness. The complaint also alleges claims for defamation, copyright infringement of Heller's book, and false light.  Heller seeks $110 million in damages.  The misappropriation claim is pled as a privacy-based claim, but is likely to be amended to include a right of publicity claim (under California common law and the right of publicity statute).  Regardless, the right of publicity/privacy claim should be a clear loser. These are the sorts of claims that will continue to be brought until the Ninth Circuit decides Sarver – the long-pending case arising out of the movie Hurt Locker. The Supreme Court also needs to provide better guidance on the First Amendment limits on the right of publicity when real-life individuals are depicted in expressive works, even if those works are sold for profit, whether in movies or videogames.

 Complaint in Heller v. NBC Universal (CD Cal. filed Oct. 30, 2015)