'Call of Duty Black Ops 2': Manuel Noriega, Former Dictator of Panama, Sues Activision over Portrayal in Game
Manuel Noriega, former Panamanian strongman and CIA operative, is suing an American video game developer over his portrayal in one of their most well-known games. The former dictator objects to the game's portrayal of him without his consent and demands monetary compensation.
Noriega became dictator of the Central American country in 1983 and ruled until 1989, when he was deposed by a U.S. invasion during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. His links to the U.S. dated back to the 1960s when the CIA employed him as an informant, paying him until the early 1980s. He is now imprisoned in the country, serving time for human rights violations.
On July 15, Noriega, 80, filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court against Activision Blizzard Inc., according to the Los Angeles Times, for using his image without permission. The game in question, "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," was released in November 2012 and made $1 billion in sales two weeks after its release.
In the lawsuit, Noriega's counsel argues that the company portrayed the former dictator as "a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state." Activision did this to "heighten realism in the game," which "translates into heightened sales" for the company, reports the Los Angeles Times. He seeks pecuniary compensation for lost profits and damages.
According to BBC News, Noriega's lawyers have invoked the right to publicity in this case. Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute states "the right of publicity prevents the unauthorized commercial use of an individual's name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one's persona. It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion."
However, the law is intended to apply to U.S. citizens, as explained by BBC News.
"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," said Jas Purewal, an interactive entertainment lawyer to BBC News.
"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."
This is not the sole case in which right of publicity has been invoked. Some college athletes sued EA and reached settlement after the game developer used their likeness in their games.