LOS ANGELES — Disgraced Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s lawsuit over his inclusion in a 2012 “Call of Duty” video game has been dismissed by a judge who determined the game’s use of his likeness is protected by the First Amendment.
Superior Court Judge William Fahey’s ruling determined that Activision Blizzard, Inc. created a complex and multi-faceted game, “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” and it relied very little on the inclusion of Noriega in a pair of missions.
Noriega had sought unspecified damages in the lawsuit, which Fahey ruled cannot be amended or re-filed. Noriega’s attorney William T. Gibbs said his office was still reviewing the ruling and would confer with Noriega on any next steps, which could include an appeal.
Noriega sued Activision in July, claiming the company depicted him as a killer and enemy of the state. The game features a story line in which players capture Noriega, who then helps the game’s villain.
“This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we’re gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn’t win,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was part of the legal team that represented Activision in court earlier this month.
Giuliani had argued that Noriega’s status as a public figure in the 1980s prevented him from suing over his inclusion in the game.
Activision, which has featured historical figures such as President John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro in previous “Call of Duty” games, praised the ruling.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the 40 million dedicated members of our ‘Call of Duty’ community and global audiences who enjoy historical fiction across all works of art,” Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard’s CEO wrote in a statement.
Noriega was toppled in 1989 by a U.S. invasion and served a 17-year drug trafficking sentence in the United States. He later was convicted in France of money laundering, and that country repatriated him to Panama in December 2011. Noriega, 80, is serving a 60-year sentence for murder, embezzlement and corruption.
He has had health issues in recent months and has been treated for high blood pressure, flu and bronchitis. His family also has said he has a benign brain tumor and heart trouble. In a sworn declaration, Noriega wrote that he learned his likeness had been used in the game after his grandchildren played it and asked why one of the missions focused on captured the ex-dictator.
Noriega contended his appearance in the game boosted Activision’s profits from “Black Ops II.” The game earned more than $1 billion in sales within 15 days of its release. Fahey disagreed, writing that the marketability and economic value of “Black Ops II “comes not from Noriega, but from the creativity, skill and reputation of (Activision.)”
Activision has pointed out that Noriega appears in one mission in the game and he wasn’t used in any of the marketing for “Black Ops II.”
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP