Manuel Noriega fails in bid to sue Call of Duty makers for using his likeness in video game

Panama’s former dictator had sought to claim the makers had implied he was 'the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes'

In a battle that pitted a multi-million selling video game against a notorious military dictator, Manuel Noriega has been defeated in his attempt to sue the makers of Call of Duty for their portrayal of a character based on him.

Noriega, Panama’s dictator from 1983 until 1989, had sought damages after a likeness of him featured in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, released in 2012.

In the game, the Noriega character helps the CIA capture a Nicaraguan terrorist before turning on the Americans. He is then himself hunted in scenes that are fictitious.

Characters in the game refer to the Noriega figure as “old pineapple face” – a nickname that was used in real life by Panamanians who dared to make fun of their dictator’s pockmarked face.

In reality, Noriega did work as a CIA informant but the agency eventually severed links with him. In 1989, amid mounting concerns about his violent regime, President George Bush Senior ordered the invasion of Panama and Noriega was taken prisoner.

Noriega – currently serving a jail sentence in Panama for crimes including the murder of critics - had sought to claim that the game makers had implied that he was “the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes.”

He also alleged that Activision depicted him as ”a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.” 

But a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court has now ruled that the inclusion of the character was protected under free speech laws.

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who had defended Activision in the case, said: “This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we're gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn't win.

”This is not just a win for the makers of Call of Duty, but is a victory for works of art across the entertainment and publishing industries throughout the world.“

Activision had said that if Noriega had succeeded in his legal action it might have encouraged other political figures to sue over the use of their appearance in films, television programmes and books as well as video games.

Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision's parent company, Activision Blizzard, said: ”Today's ruling is a victory for global audiences who enjoy historical fiction across all works of art.”

It is estimated that more than 24 million copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops II have been sold since its release.

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