The former Dictator of Panama, Manuel Noriega, sued Activision in July over his portrayal as a minor antagonist in Call of Duty Black Ops 2. The lawsuit alleges that Activision has depicted and used Noriega’s name without his permission as well as depicting him committing several fictional crimes. In 1989 Noriega was removed from power in Panama by a United States military intervention. He was convicted of many heinous crimes including drug trafficking, and killing political opponents. Noriega is currently serving a prison sentence in Panama.
In Call of Duty Black Ops 2 the player participates in the US invasion of Panama and interacts with a fictional Noriega. Noriega assists the game’s primary antagonist, Raul Menendez. On September 22 filed a motion to dismiss Noriega’s lawsuit. Former New York Major Rudy Giuliani is one of the lawyers assisting Activision in this case. Giuliani warns of a dangerous precedent being set if is victorious in this case because then other public figures that are portrayed in video games, books, or movies could potentially sue. Giuliani cites Osama Bin Laden’s heirs suing the filmmakers behind Zero Dark Thirty as an example of this dangerous precedent.
The main point for Activision’s case however is that Activision’s use of Noriega as a character is protected as free speech. Giuliani claimed in an interview that because there has been transformative, or creative, use of Noriega as a character then the Black Ops 2 depiction of Noriega would be protected as free speech. A win for Noriega could open up the floodgates for other lawsuits as well as limit the creativity of game designers. In my opinion it is unlikely that Noriega will win this case. However the case is an important reminder of the importance of the freedom of speech to the gaming industry.
Free Speech allows game designers to be free of attempts at content regulation. In the United States the mainstream media often criticizes and blames violent video games for crimes and other social problems. For now free speech continues to reign supreme but gamers should be aware of their favorite industry’s important champion.
Article by: Mark Gordon