A US federal judge has now allowed a massive, $250 million defamation lawsuit against the makers of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ to proceed.
The lawsuit, filed by original N.W.A manager Jerry Heller last fall, alleges defamation for wantonly fabricating falsehoods in one of the biggest films of 2015. The complaint, originally lodged on October 30th, 2015 in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles, contained an amazing 29 different instances of defamation in ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ with damages that could reach an estimated $250 million.
November 2nd, 2015: “29 Reasons Why Jerry Heller Is Suing the Producers of ‘Straight Outta Compton’“
Now, US District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald has allowed that suit to move forward, despite considerable reservations and a motion by NBCUniversal to dismiss. In his decision, Fitzgerald indicated that Heller would encounter ‘some real trouble’ securing damages, while permitting an amended complaint to shuttle the case forward.
A major issue is that Heller is considered a public figure, a situation that introduces a number of additional protections against defamation under California laws. Additionally, the broad cast of defendants, including NBCUniversal, have argued that the situations surrounding the rise of N.W.A are subject to considerable interpretation. Indeed, Fitzgerald noted that Heller himself has injected himself into the fog of information, partly by authoring a book on the matter.
Issues tied to procedure have also been introduced, with broad, scattershot approach potentially drawing rebuke. The massive defendant list also director F. Gary Gray, a number of different screenwriters, Legendary Pictures, the estate of Eazy E, as well as members of the rap group itself. “The possibility of sanctions hangs over this case… if Heller can’t provide specific allegations to each of the defendants,” Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter noted.
Then, there are issues related to defamation suits themselves, including the massive costs of creating them. “Defamation lawsuits are a game for kings,” noted music industry attorney Steve Gordon, who also added the old legal adage, “it’s not defamation if it’s true.” Whether Heller’s allegations are true is a matter for a judge (and possibly, jury), though the possibility of receiving $250 million in damages seem slim.