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Judge Dismisses <I>Perfect Storm</I> Lawsuit

10 May, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

A federal court judge today threw out a lawsuit in which relatives of crewmen portrayed in the Warner Bros. Pictures film The Perfect Storm claimed the men were portrayed unfairly.

Ther 12-page ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Anne C. Conway brings an end to a case that would have gone to trial June 3.The court also ordered the plaintiffs to pay Warner Bros.' costs in defending the lawsuit.

Shortly after the release of the 2000 film, the ex-wives of Billy Tyne (portrayed in the film by George Clooney) and Dale Murphy (portrayed in the film by John C. Reilly) sued Warner Bros. on behalf of themselves and their children, objecting to the way their late husbands were portrayed and claiming the studio did not have the right to make the film without first obtaining their permission and compensating them. Doug Kosko, a fisherman briefly portrayed in the film, also sued.

The plaintiffs alleged that Warner Bros. had violated their rights of publicity and privacy, and were entitled to $10 million in damages. Warner Bros. asked the court to dismiss the case, on the grounds that the plaintiffs' claims were legally defective and unconstitutional.

“We are extremely pleased with the Court's ruling in this important case. The plaintiffs' theory that Warner Bros. needed their permission to make The Perfect Storm -- and were required to tell the tragic story of the Andrea Gail the way plaintiffs wanted it told – profoundly threatened free speech. Longstanding and important forms of creative expression, such as dramatized accounts of true events, historical fiction or unauthorized biographies would have been imperiled,” said a statement from Warner. “In rejecting plaintiffs' claims and not requiring Warner Bros. to endure the burden and expense of a trial, and possible appeals, the court's ruling is a huge victory not only for Warner Bros. but for all writers, artists and filmmakers who may now continue to find inspiration in historical events without having their creative visions censored and controlled by anyone with a connection to those events. Creative works such as The Perfect Storm lie at the heart of the First Amendment's free speech protections, and Warner Bros. is deeply gratified that these fundamental principles were so thoroughly vindicated in today's decision.”

The Perfect Storm was based on Sebastian Junger's 1997 bestselling novel of the same name, and told the story of the unprecedented storm that struck off the coast of New England in 1991. A swordfishing boat known as the Andrea Gail was caught in the storm and lost at sea, resulting in the deaths of the boat's captain, Billy Tyne, and five crewmembers. While based on a true story, certain elements of the film were fictionalized.

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