Managers representing artists whose stories are depicted in so-called “docudramas” are filing suits against the deep pockets responsible for production and/or release of the films. Are these managers washed up opportunists or are they asserting valid claims against those costing them their careers?
Perri “Pebbles” Reid filed suit against Viacom back in April of last year for airing “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story”, in which Pebbles alleges she was depicted as a greedy, controlling and manipulative manager of the girl group. Pebbles suit for defamation demands $40 million in damages, as she contends that her representation in the film amounted to defamation per se because her on film characterization harmed her professional reputation. Viacom argues that the biopic was a docudrama told from the account of the remaining members of TLC, as evidenced by the first line in the movie “here’s what I remember…” Pebbles agrees with the “docudrama” categorization of the film, but contends that it was advertised as a true story and was supposed to convey the truth. Unfortunately for Pebbles, she’s been recognized in the industry for over 20 years as the person who took advantage of TLC as evidenced by a lengthy negotiation and settlement that ended with a substantial payment from the group to her management company. TLC’s bankruptcy court proceedings further demonstrated that TLC were experiencing legit financial constraints and that bankruptcy was not simply a means to get out of their contract. Pebbles just might be doing what she does best yet again, 20 years later, taking advantage of a seemingly profitable situation.
Jerry Heller, manager for N.W.A, is now suing for the production of “Straight Outta Compton” for basically the same thing as Pebbles. Heller is alleging his depiction on the film amounts to defamation and damages in the amount of $110 million. Heller objects to the personification of him withholding money from his artists, being responsible for the group’s break-up, and him living lavishly at the expense of his clients, among other things. Oh and Heller is suing everybody. NBCUniversal is the main named defendant, but Heller included the artists, their record label, the film director – everybody. NBCUniversal has yet to respond to the lawsuit, as it just got hit with it a couple days ago, but its response will likely mirror the defenses used by Viacom against Pebbles.
The judge in both cases will probably be asked to determine whether docudramas are works that are susceptible to defamation accusations. Truth is always a defense to defamation suits and there has got to be some truth to the depiction of both of these managers, given what the general public knows and remembers about these artists, their rise to fame and everything else that was going on during those times.
These lawsuits really have me wondering: were these managers ever worth what they’re asking for in these complaints? Have they ever even seen that much over their years combined in the industry or let alone their lifetime? I mean really, where are they coming up with these figures? Are they using these lawsuits as just another attempt to remain relevant in the industry because the notoriety received from release of the individual films didn’t reignite their careers enough? For their sake, I hope their lawyers are working on a contingent basis…
Lerae Funderburg, Esq. is the Managing Attorney at Funderburg Law, LLC, an Atlanta based entertainment law firm. Lerae has almost 10 years of experience in entertainment law in both music law and film law. As an entertainment lawyer and blogger, Lerae keeps her viewers and subscribers up to date with entertainment law news, especially in the areas of music, copyright law and trademark law. If you are local to Atlanta, call and set up a consultation! She would love to hear from you!