20 September 2022


In this issue of zoom-in brief, Netflix has settled a defamation lawsuit brought by a chess grandmaster over the depiction of her in the hit series The Queen’s Gambit, a photo editor is bringing action against Netflix over her portrayal as the friend of the “fake heiress” in Inventing Anna,  former England footballer Gary Neville is referred to the Attorney General following a social media post made during the domestic violence trial of his friend Ryan Giggs; whilst actor and producer Noel Clarke drops his defamation action against BAFTA.

Editorial credit: GaFullner/shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: GaFullner/shutterstock.com
Anya Taylor-Joy

Defamation – US – Netflix settles Georgian chess champion lawsuit

Netflix has settled a lawsuit brought by a Georgian chess master who accused the streaming giant of defaming her in an episode of the hit TV series The Queen’s Gambit.

Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman ever to be awarded the title of chess ‘Grandmaster’, filed a $5-million claim against Netflix in mid-September last year. She complained of a scene in which a commentator, while narrating a match between protagonist Beth Harmon and a fictional Russian grandmaster, says that Gaprindashvili is “the female world champion and has never faced men”.

Gaprindashvili’s lawsuit said that she had played at least 59 male chess players by 1968, the year in which the episode is set, and that the programme’s suggesting otherwise was “manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling”.

Netflix initially sought to have the case dismissed on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the series was fictional and that the offending line was “not stated by an objective narrator, but rather as dialogue by a fictional character who is, himself, a part of the gender-segregated chess world that the series depicts”.

That bid failed after a judge in January rejected Netflix’s arguments. U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips said:

“Netflix does not cite, and the Court is not aware, of any cases precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works.”

 “The fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present”.

Netflix appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but that appeal was dismissed earlier this month.

Gaprindashvili’s attorney and a spokesperson for Netflix have since said in separate statements that they “are pleased that the matter has been resolved”. The parties have declined to discuss the terms of the settlement agreement.

In England and Wales, a defendant to a defamation action cannot escape liability simply by arguing that the work complained of purports to be a work of fiction: the key question will be whether reasonable people would think the claimant was being referred to in the work.

Defamation – US – Action brought over Netflix’s depiction of character in “Inventing Anna”

A former Vanity Fair photo editor is bringing legal proceedings against Netflix over her depiction in the Emmy-nominated drama mini-series Inventing Anna.

Last month, Rachel Williams filed an action in Delaware federal court for defamation and false light invasion of privacy, claiming that the streamer “made a deliberate decision for dramatic purposes to show [her] doing or saying things in the Series which portray her as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person”.

The filing goes on to assert that “[a]s a result of Netflix’s false portrayal of her as a vile and contemptible person, Williams was subjected to a torrent of online abuse, negative in-person interactions, and pejorative characterizations in podcasts, etc. that were based on the Series, which establish that Netflix’s actions exposed her to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or induced an evil opinion of her”.

Inventing Anna is based upon the life of Anna Sorokin, who posed as an heiress to gain access to New York high society and was subsequently convicted of fraud and other crimes.

Williams is seeking unspecified damages, as well as an injunction prohibiting the repetition of identified defamatory statements, and compelling their removal from the mini-series. Her lawsuit says her action is based on “statements of fact which are demonstrably false and the attribution of statements that she never made”, such as “sponging off Sorokin by accepting gifts of expensive clothes, jewellery and accessories”, “dropping Sorokin as a friend because Sorokin could no longer pay for her”, and “abandoning Sorokin in Morocco when she was alone and in trouble”.

The lawsuit goes on to say that Williams dropped Sorokin as a friend because she discovered Sorokin had made “fraudulent statements and promises… which induced her to incur liabilities of around $62,000 on Sorokin’s behalf”.

Netflix has not yet commented on Williams’s lawsuit.

Contempt – UK – Gary Neville referred to Attorney General over social media post during Giggs trial

The football pundit and former England star Gary Neville has been referred to the UK Attorney General over an Instagram post made during the domestic violence trial of his friend and former Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs.

The jury in Giggs’s trial was discharged at the end of August after failing to reach verdicts on charges of assault and controlling behaviour. Giggs, whose not-guilty plea remains in relation to the charges, will face a retrial from 31 July 2023.

The judge in the trial, Hilary Manley, referred to Neville’s social media post following the jury’s being discharged. She said:

“One other relevant matter I should deal with, on Wednesday the 10th of August, day three, the prosecution brought to my attention, a social media post.”

“Both the prosecution and defence agreed with me, in the absence of any comment from the jury, and given my clear direction, the trial could properly continue.”

“Given the author is a person with a high public profile and his social media account has 1.5 million followers, it could be seen to be an attempt to influence on-going criminal proceedings and could be contempt of court.”

“Accordingly, I am referring the matter to the office of the Attorney General for the consideration of a potential prosecution.”

Contempt of court protects the integrity of the administration of justice. It prohibits the publication – including on social media – of anything which creates a “substantial risk” that a trial will be “seriously prejudiced” and can result in up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine.

Chris Daw KC, defending Giggs, told the Court at the time he wanted to make it “crystal clear” Giggs had nothing to do with the post.

Neville has strongly denied making any comments which referred to Giggs’s trial. His agent said “Gary is absolutely adamant that this was not about the case, but was referring to the Glazers [Manchester United’s US owners]. Any suggestion otherwise is not true and he will take it very seriously.”

Defamation – UK – Noel Clarke drops legal action against BAFTA

Actor and producer Noel Clarke has dropped his defamation action against the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (‘BAFTA’), the Academy has said.

Clarke, 46, filed the lawsuit against the awards body in London’s High Court over a letter sent to BAFTA members discussing an April 2021 story in The Guardian, which concerned allegations of sexual misconduct against Clarke by women who had worked with him over a 15-year period.

Clarke vehemently denied all claims of sexual misconduct or criminal wrongdoing. In March 2022, the Metropolitan Police said no criminal investigation would be undertaken as the information received “would not meet the threshold”.

Following the publication of the allegations against Clarke, BAFTA suspended his membership and a recently received award. In a statement last week, a spokesperson said the defamation action against the Academy had been dropped.

“We note that Noel Clarke has dropped his legal action against Bafta,” they said. “The serious misconduct alleged in first-hand testimonies and published in The Guardian newspaper is contrary to the standards expected of a Bafta member and the values we uphold as an arts charity and academy.”

“We stand by our decision to suspend his honorary award and membership as soon as the detailed allegations came to light”, they added.

In a May 2022 interview with the Mail on Sunday, Clarke likened the general rush to judge him as being guilty, accelerated by social media, to “a form of modern McCarthyism”.


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