In ruling for the plaintiffs in Davis v. Electronic Arts earlier this week, the Ninth Circuit has given us the latest interpretation of the Transformative Use test. This ruling comes only a few months following a contrasting ruling in Noriega v. Activision, in which the Transformative Use defense led to a ruling in favor of the defendant.
The Activision case centered on inclusion of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani served as co-counsel for Activision, and the following Hollywood Reporter article provides good insight as well as a link to the defense’s memo in support of its motion to strike Noriega’s complaint.
It is interesting to consider if the day might ever come when Rudy Giuliani might want to assert his own Right of Publicity in response to a commercial use of some kind.
In its Davis v. Electronic Arts ruling, the court looked to its prior ruling in Keller v. Electronic Arts, where the court also rejected the Transformative Use defense advanced by EA. The court in Davis v. Electronic Arts stated that the Madden video game “replicates players’ physical characteristics and allows users to manipulate them in the performance of the same activity for which they are known in real life – playing football for an NFL team.”
There are certainly considerable differences between the extent of use, purpose of use, and commercial aspects between the use of former NFL players in the Madden game and that of Noriega in Black Ops II, so in general, I applaud the Ninth Circuit’s rejection of the Transformative Use defense in its determination, and in not taking the usual “throw the baby out with the bath water” that too-often seems to accompany rulings concerning the Right of Publicity, as in the overreaching ruling in Indiana against the heir of John Dillinger in a case against EA.
That ruling led to my effort to amend Indiana’s Right of Publicity statute in 2011 and 2012, which was passed and successfully maintained the integrity of Indiana’s Right of Publicity statute:
Here is a link to the January 6, 2015 ruling in Davis v. Electronic Arts:
The band No Doubt filed a lawsuit against Activision earlier this month. The suit is based on the band’s objection to the use of the band members as avatars which game users can use to perform songs other than the band’s own material. The suit references the possibility of the band’s front person, Gwen Stefani, being made to perform the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman, the lyrics of which reportedly are offensive to Stefani.
Some may recall the suit filed by Courtney Love against Activision, over the potential use of Kurt Cobain being made to perform music that Cobain would have objected to on artistic grounds.
An interesting twist to the No Doubt case is that the band had a contract with Activision for certain uses of the band and its music. Apparently the dispute is about the other uses a game player can make of the No Doubt characters. Recent draft right of publicity legislation reflects the video game industry’s lobbying efforts to make disputes such as the No Doubt lawsuit a thing of the past. In an effort to align video games with other statutorily-exempted uses, the lobbyists for the video game industry would like video games to be considered a protected medium and not subject to liability for right of publicity claims.
Here is a link to one of many articles reporting the story: http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/61134