Activision Blizzard enlists Rudy Giuliani to fight Noriega’s ‘Call of Duty’ lawsuit

September 22, 2014, 3:21 PM UTC
General Manuel Antonio Noriega speaks 20
General Manuel Antonio Noriega speaks 20 May 1988 in Panama City during the presentation of colors to the San Miguel Arcangel de San Miguelito volunteer batallion. Noriega said that discussions with the U.S. could not continue as long as the U.S. continued its agression and that Panamian democracy will not follow an North American schedule. (Photo credit should read ANGEL MURILLO/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo by AFP—Getty Images

Video game publisher Activision Blizzard has called in former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to help fight off a publicity rights lawsuit filed against the Santa Monica company by Panama’s former dictator, Manuel Noriega.

Noriega sued Activision Blizzard (ATVI) in Los Angeles in July, claiming the company used his name and likeness without his permission in its popular game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” The company said Monday that Giuliani, who is now a name partner at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, will serve as the company’s co-counsel as it plans to file a motion to dismiss Noriega’s lawsuit later today on the grounds that the depiction of the former military dictator in the game is a protected right to free speech.

The former mayor and U.S. attorney called Noriega’s lawsuit “absurd” in a statement saying that Activision Blizzard is seeking “to dismiss an outrageous lawsuit by one of the worst criminals of the last 50 years, Manuel Noriega,” who Giuliani calls “a minor figure” in the video game. The company is also being represented by the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Noriega, who was removed as Panama’s military dictator in 1989 following a U.S. invasion, claims in his lawsuit that the company portrayed him as “a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state” in the video game in order to boost sales. Noriega spent almost two decades in prison in the U.S. after being convicted on multiple counts of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering in 1992.

Noriega’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Giuliani and the company argue that, if Noriega’s lawsuit were to be successful, it would pave the way for a deluge of lawsuits from the families of other historical figures attempting to block depictions in works of historical fiction, including movies like Forrest Gump and television shows like “Saturday Night Live.”

Historical figures, or their families, “could sue anytime they were mentioned, not just in a game, but in a movie or a book,” Giuliani said in a statement. “Games, movies and books are considered the same, according to the United States Supreme Court for free speech purposes, so it would destroy to a very, very large extent the creative genre of historical fiction.”

In July, actress Lindsay Lohan sued Rockstar Games, alleging the video game company appropriated her likeness without her permission for a character in its hugely popular game “Grand Theft Auto V.”

Of course, this is not the first time that Giuliani and Noriega have shared headlines. In 1989, several months before the U.S. invasion of Panama, Giuliani’s first campaign to be New York City’s mayor was plagued by accusations from his Republican primary opponents that his law firm at the time, White & Case, had ties to Noriega. White & Case admitted that the country of Panama was a client of the firm, but claimed that no work had been done specifically for Noriega. Giuliani prevailed in the Republican primary that year, but later lost in the general election to David Dinkins.

Noriega is seeking lost profits from the game, as well as damages. “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” hauled in over $1 billion in sales within two weeks of its November 2012 release. Activision Blizzard has a market capitalization of more than $15.5 billion. The company’s shares were down almost 0.5% on Monday morning.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Activision Blizzard makes the popular “Halo” video game series, which was actually created by Bungie. The story has been updated to reflect this mistake.