IP Law News

Olivia De Havilland, 102, Rebuffed by High Court Over FX Drama

Jan. 7, 2019, 3:40 PMUpdated: Jan. 7, 2019, 5:23 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Hollywood movie star Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit over how Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed her in an FX Networks drama.

De Havilland said “Feud: Bette and Joan” defamed her and cast her in a false light. The 102-year-old actress said she never used the language Zeta-Jones used to portray her in the series about the rivalry between legendary contemporaries Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

The outcome favored First Amendment free speech rights over California’s right-of-publicity law, which gives a celebrity control over commercial use of their image, name, likeness, and other distinguishing characteristics.

A California appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the right-of-publicity case, and the California Supreme Court declined it before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same. The lower court said the case fell under the state’s strategic lawsuit against public participation law. Anti-SLAPP statutes aim to stop frivolous lawsuits against entities or individuals exercising their free speech rights.

The Motion Picture Association of America had argued de Havilland’s lawsuit was a threat to artistic license and the entire genre of fictionalized docudramas about real events.

(Updated with additional reporting)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Jahner in Washington at kjahner@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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