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Bret Michaels, plaintiff, and Pamela Anderson Lee, Intervenor, v. Internet Entertainment Group, Inc. et als, U.S. D. C. Central Dist. Calif. No. CV 98-0583 DDP

Summary

In this case, Brett Michaels, Pamela Anderson Lee’s ex-boyfriend and lead singer of the band "Poison," sued Internet Entertainment Group (IEG) to preclude IEG from publishing and offering for sale on its web site a sexually explicit video tape of Mr. Michaels and Ms. Anderson Lee that IEG had obtained from a private investigator. On Michael’s motion, the court enjoined IEG from publishing the tape finding that the content of the tape was not newsworthy and that the private facts depicted on the tape had not been public by virtue of Anderson Lee’s acting or by dissemination of the Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson Lee videotape which was the subject of an earlier lawsuit involving Ms. Anderson Lee and IEG.

Analysis

To promote its adult entertainment web sites, Internet Entertainment Group (IEG) has hit upon a winning formula of obtaining sexually explicit video tapes or photographs of celebrities and posting them. The Michaels case is the second in the series. The first involved Pamela Lee and her then-husband, Tommy Lee, who were taped on a boat after their wedding. They sought to prevent IEG from making the video available on one of its web sites, but ultimately entered an agreement permitting its use. Recently, the Lees lost an attempt to enjoin IEG from placing the video in other distribution channels. IEG has also posted nude photographs of "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, radio talk show personality and author of self help books aimed at women, including How Could You Do That and Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives. Ruling on IEG’s promotions has been steady work for Judge Dean Pregerson, who denied Schlessinger’s preliminary injunction motion, after having allowed Michaels’.

Michaels, lead singer of "Poison," and Lee, recorded a tape depicting "the visual and aural details of their sexual relations," and it was obtained by IEG from a private investigator. The circumstances leading to its acquisition by the investigator are both unclear and disputed. Michaels, learning that IEG intended to publish the tape, filed a copyright registration for this "Private Home Tape" and then brought suit for damages and for an injunction to prevent its distribution. In addition to copyright infringement and related claims, Michaels alleged several privacy violations, under common law and California statutes. These included invasion of privacy and breach of Michaels’ right of publicity. Control of publicity about oneself is an aspect of privacy rights.

In Michaels, the court enjoined posting of the video on the strength of Michaels’ and Lee’s claims of copyright violation as well as their right to publicity and right to privacy. The privacy analysis was in the form of an answer to the court’s rhetorical question: "Do Sex Symbols Have Privacy?" The conclusion was that "the private facts depicted on the Michaels Tape have not become public either by virtue of Lee’s professional appearances as an actor, or by dissemination of the Tommy Lee videotape." The court also rejected a claim of newsworthiness: "It is difficult if not impossible to articulate a social value that will be advanced by dissemination of the Tape."

Like the Drudge Report, IEG has seized on the power of the Internet to create commercial opportunities based on distribution of "information" about famous people. It seems safe to say that there will be many Internet cases to come deciding where lines should be drawn to separate private lives from public personae.

Copyright SRBC 1998 up