Many of you may have heard recently that (in)famous dictator and all-around terrible (misunderstood?) person Manuel Noriega has sued Activision. According to the LA Times:
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Noriega alleges that “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” portrays him as “a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.” This was done “to heighten realism in its game,” which “translates directly into heightened sales” for Activision, the lawsuit states.
Noriega, 80, is seeking lost profits as well as damages. His attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
Much has been written already about this lawsuit. (See, e.g., Bloomberg, BBC Reuters, and NY Post). Reactions to the lawsuit have been mixed; initial disbelief and head shaking eventually gave way to an examination of the relevant legal elements by law professor Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy blog.
People’s initial reaction of “WTF?” likely results from their understanding of the atrocities and crimes committed by Noriega. Noriega’s convictions (according to CNN”s Fast Facts)–not just accusations and suspicions–include:
- Eight counts of drug smuggling and racketeering
- the murder of Dr. Hugo Spadafora (whose decapitated body was found in a sack in the jungle)
- the murder of Major Moises Spadafora
- money laundering
Unsuprisingly, people are disturbed to think that someone with a Greatest Hits album like Noriega could resort to U.S. Courts to obtain millions of dollars in legitimate video game profits. Notwithstanding Professor Volokh’s suggestion that Noriega’s claim potentially has merit, I think this case would be a perfect opportunity for the invocation of the doctrine of unclean hands.
For those of you non-lawyers out there, unclean hands is a legal doctrine which basically exists to prevent a plaintiff from profiting from wrongful conduct. While different state courts describe the doctrine slightly differently, at least one California case provides that, “Any conduct that violates conscience, or good faith, or other equitable standards of conduct is sufficient cause to invoke the doctrine,” so long as “the misconduct that brings the clean hands doctrine into play…relate[s] directly to the cause at issue.” Kendall-Jackson v. E&J Gallo Winery, 90 Cal.Rptr.2d 743, 76 Cal.App.4th 970 (Cal. App. 5 Dist., 1999).
In this instance, Noriega is undoubtedly included in the game due to his abhorrent transgressions as the military dictator of Panama. He’s a notable public figure not because of any positive behavior, but because of his thuggish past. As the LA Times article notes, he’s accurately portrayed as “a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state” to bring “realism” to the game. I can’t imagine a court effectively rewarding him for his past crimes by allowing him to succeed on a right of publicity claim. It would be like giving Charles Manson royalties for the Helter Skelter movies.