In a newly-filed case in Los Angeles that is likely to even further tarnish the reputation of plaintiffs' lawyers (and possibly intellectual property lawyers generally), ousted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has filed a civil lawsuit against Activision, alleging that his likeness was used without his permission in the recent video game Call of Duty II: Black Ops.
Time magazine reports that Noriega formally accuses the videogame's makers of "wrongly depict[ing]" him as a "kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state."
In the 1989 invasion of Panama by the United States, Noriega was removed from power, captured, detained as a prisoner of war, and flown to the United States. Noriega was later tried on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in violation of U.S. federal law in April 1992.
Noriega's U.S. prison sentence ended in September 2007; pending the outcome of extradition requests by both Panama and France, for convictions in absentia for murder in 1995 and money laundering in 1999.
France granted the extradition request in April 2010. He arrived in Paris on April 27, 2010, and after a re-trial as a condition of the extradition, he was found guilty again and sentenced to seven years in jail in July 2010.
A conditional release was granted on September 23, 2011, for Noriega to be extradited to serve 20 years in Panama. He arrived in Panama on December 11, 2011 where he is currently in prison.
Therefore, even assuming, for argument's sake, that Activision used Noriega's likeness in the game without offering him compensation, it is difficult to understand how Noriega could ever have lawfully received a penny.
Under both state and U.S. federal law (18 U.S.C. §§ 3681 and 3682), convicted criminals have difficulty keeping assets attributable to their crimes. While the U.S. Supreme Court has limited that principle in Simon and Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Board, 502 U.S. 105 (1991), victim restitution and forfeiture orders are still permissible.
Further, it borders on the absurd to ponder how a dictator who was repeatedly convicted and sentenced under several different nations' laws can have a "reputation" that could be further harmed by a video game.
Even stranger still is that Noriega's attorney is a renowned trial lawyer of Erin Brockovich fame.