General Manuel Antonio Noriega speaking in Panama City in 1988.
Photo by AFP—Getty Images
By Tom Huddleston Jr.
October 28, 2014

Much like his former militaristic regime, former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega’s lawsuit against video game publisher Activision Blizzard is out of commission.

A Los Angeles judge has tossed out a privacy rights lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard by Panama’s former leader, the company said in a press release. Noriega, who is currently serving a prison sentence in Panama, filed the suit in July, claiming the company had used his name and likeness without his permission for an installment of its popular “Call of Duty” game franchise.

Judge William Fahey of the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit on Tuesday, ruling that Activision Blizzard’s right to free expression outweighs Noriega’s right of privacy. The lawsuit sought damages and claimed that Activision Blizzard damaged Noriega’s reputation when it allegedly “engaged in the blatant misuse, unlawful exploitation and misappropriation of [Noriega’s] image and likeness for economic gain” by including him as a character in “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” – a game that, within two weeks of its November 2012 release, raked in more than $1 billion in sales.

Fortune wrote about the lawsuit last month, when Activision Blizzard (ATVI) announced that it had enlisted former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to join its defense team. Giuliani – who, interestingly, once denied accusations that his former law firm, White & Case, had done work for Noriega – called Fahey’s dismissal of the lawsuit “an important victory.”

“This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we’re gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn’t win,”Giuliani said in a statement. “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 Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement that the 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.” The company’s legal team had previously argued that Noriega’s lawsuit, if successful, could have opened the door for families of historical figures to attempt to block depictions in any number of works of historical fiction, from movies like Forrest Gump to televised sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”

Fahey wrote in his order that Noriega failed to provide actual evidence showing that his reputation had been harmed by the popular video game.

“Indeed, given the world-wide reporting of his actions in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, it is hard to imagine that any such evidence exists,” Fahey wrote in a scathing dismissal that also describes Noriega as “a notorious public figure, perhaps one of the more notable historical figures of the 1980’s.”

A U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 removed Noriega from his role as that country’s military dictator and led to his eventual conviction on multiple counts of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering a few years later. Noriega spent two decades in prison in the U.S. and is currently serving a jail sentence in Panama for crimes he committed while in power in that country, including the murder of members of his opposition.

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