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Making Comic Book Characters Out of Public Figures Not Defamation
Description Appeals court affirmed the dismissal of defamation suit brought by musicians Johnny and Edgar Winter who sued DC Comics for basing evil characters on them. Since no reasonable person would believe the comics to represent reality, there can be no suit.
Topic Torts
Key Words Defamation; Libel; First Amendment; Parody
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Musicians Edgar Winter and Johnny Winter sued DC Comics for creating two characters in a series of Jonah Hex comic books called Edgar and Johnny Autumn, who are clearly based on the Winters. They allege that the comic series defame them because it portrays them "as vile, depraved, stupid, cowardly, subhuman individuals who engage in wanton acts of violence, murder and bestiality for pleasure and who should be killed." The trial court dismissed their suit holding that it was barred by the First Amendment since the readers know that it does not imply actual facts or events about the Winters. They appealed.
Decision Affirmed. "Defamation is effected by either libel or slander. Since the publication here is a comic book, the tort of libel is at issue. Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation. ... Our review of all five of the comics at issue here leads us to conclude that no reasonable reader would believe any portion of the depiction arguable relating to appellants as factual." There is an element of parody here too, which is due certain free speech protections.
Citation Winter v. DC Comics, 2000 WL 1225798 (Ct. App., Calif., 2000)

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