Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a California court’s dismissal of actress Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit against FX Networks. The decision sustains First Amendment protection to expressive works and free speech rights of the creators.
De Havilland had accused FX of violating her right of publicity and depicting her in a false light in the FX miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan.” She claimed that actress Catherine Zeta-Jones’s portrayal of De Havilland created “a public impression that she was a hypocrite, selling gossip in order to promote herself at the Academy Awards, criticizing fellow actors, using vulgarity and cheap language with others.” De Havilland also alleged that FX’s “misappropriation” caused her harm, and she sought a permanent injunction restraining FX “from continuing to infringe [her] right of publicity.”
A California trial court initially concluded that De Havilland had met her burden on her right of publicity and false light claims. This decision was later reversed by a California Court of Appeal, which concluded that these types of claims were precluded by the First Amendment. De Havilland petitioned both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. Both courts refused to review the decision.
One of our Fox Rothschild partners, Lincoln Bandlow, was featured in a Daily Journal article about this decision. Bandlow told the Daily Journal that had the trial court’s decision been upheld, “it would have had a severe creative chilling effect.” The California Court of Appeal decision was “one of the best First Amendment decisions on rights of publicity out there,” according to Bandlow.
Read the California Court of Appeal’s full decision here.