Monday, September 03, 2007


Ellen Johnston, a worshipper portrayed in a crowd at a church meeting claims the producers of the 20th Century Fox motion picture "Borat" deceived her into believing that she was participating in a religious documentary. She has asked a federal court to let her proceed with her invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the producers of the film. She says she never signed a release to appear in the film, and that the producers invaded her privacy by filming her without her consent while praising the Lord. In the scene, Sacha Baron Cohen's character pretends to speak in tongues.

"She is not identified by name, does not speak on film and is seen doing what several others in the same scene are doing," according to the producers. "The plaintiff was aware the meeting was being filmed and does not claim that her image, as it appears in the film, is altered in any way." Johnston, however, says the filming took place in an interior setting where she had an "expectation" of privacy.

The case raises some interesting issues. A person's right to privacy has to be balanced against others’ First Amendment rights to freely express themselves. Filmmakers and journalists can generally film subjects in open public view without their permission. However, if Mike Wallace and his "60 Minutes" camera crew, for example, placed a hidden camera in a department store dressing room that would be considered an invasion of privacy. In this situation the subjects would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The defendants had asked the court to dismiss the suit in June, asserting that the Plaintiff did not have a valid cause of action. The suit seeks $100,000 in compensatory and $500,000 in punitive damages. Johnston v. One America Productions Inc. et al., No. 07-42, response filed (N.D. Miss., Delta Div. July 3, 2007).

This is the second time the producers have been sued by subjects portrayed in the film. Last year two fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina filed a lawsuit alleging that they were duped into making racist and sexist remarks. They asked for an injunction stopping the DVD release of the film. The court denied the request. Doe v. One Am. Prods., No. SC091723, motion denied (Cal. Super. Ct., Los Angeles County Dec. 11, 2006).


Legendary talent agent Ed Limato has prevailed in JAMS arbitration proceeding freeing him from his contract with ICM and permitting him to take his clients with him.

Limato worked for ICM for several decades and has represented top drawer stars like Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Richard Gere and Steve Martin. Limato's attorney argued that the ICM employment contract violated the California labor law section 2855 which limits personal services to no more than seven years.

Actress Olivia de Havilland was one of the first to contest long term contracts after she declined to accept the parts offered to her. Consequently, Warner Bros. suspended her and extended her contract beyond seven years. When her seven-year contract expired, the studio claimed she was still under contract because of the suspensions. The court ruled in her favor, reducing the power the studios had exercised over performers. This ruling was an important factor in increasing the clout of actors and their agents. De Haviland v. Warner Bros. Pictures, 67 Cal. App. 2d 225, 153 P. 2d 983 (1944).


We have added new sections on forming your company with checklists and chart comparing the differences between corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships.