Two Law Professors In Los Angeles File Briefs To Request Olivia de Havilland’s Lawsuit Be Dismissed Against ‘Feud’ Producers

For those of us sick and tired of reality TV, we hailed and celebrated Ryan Murphy’s “Feud: Bette and Joan.” This week, Friend-of-the court briefs have been filed with a state appeals court, where FX Networks is urging that Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit alleging the studio falsely portrayed her in an anthology series about the feud between fellow actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford be dismissed.

One of the briefs submitted to the 2nd District Court of Appeal was co- authored by law professors Jennifer Rothman of Loyola Law School and Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law. They say the 2017 decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig allowing the suit’s right-of-publicity claim to proceed must be overturned.


A friend-of-the-court brief is a document submitted by an individual or group interested in influencing the outcome of a lawsuit.


“Depictions of real people in books, newspapers and films have long been understood to be protected by the First Amendment,” the professors state. “Under the trial court’s logic, all unauthorized biographies would be unlawful, including traditional written biographies.”

If the law required that all living persons give permission before they could be depicted in documentaries, docudramas and works of fiction, they would have the right to refuse permission unless the story was told their way, according to Rothman and Volokh.


“The First Amendment bars the right of publicity from granting a right to control the celebrity’s image by censoring disagreeable portrayals,” the professors say.


The professors do not take a position on de Havilland’s defamation and false-light claims.


Other groups who have come out in support of the appellants include A&E Television Networks LLC, Discovery Communications LLC, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Coalition.


Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  AP
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