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Don Burleson Blog 








The future of comedy is in the hands of the lawyers

The TV news reported the first U.S. Borat lawsuit this week, from a most unlikely source, the South Carolina Fraternity boys whose drunken opinions on the return of slavery have helped the Borat movie to soar past $60 million dollars in its first weekend in release. 

Cohen has also received a $42m deal for a second movie, the sexy-time escapades of his Bruno character, a queer homo from Austria.  Same shtick, different character, more cash.

  • Video - Bruno interview a Christian

Ah yes, let's not forget the real stars of the Borat movie, the unsuspecting real people who make Borat a box-office sensation.  They want their cut, and the race to the courthouse has begun.

Basis for the Borat lawsuit

This article discusses the merits of the legal challenges to the Borat release form:

"Generally these releases will hold up in court unless the person suing can prove that he signed the agreement under false pretenses or while incapacitated," said entertainment attorney Aaron Moss, who works for top L.A. law firm Greenberg Glusker. "Even if a participant was lied to, a court may find that the person should have read the contract and that if he didn't, it's essentially his own fault.

"It's a legal doctrine that says the contract supersedes the oral representation relayed," he explained.

"I absolutely have a case," said the attorney, citing two main legal reasons to invalidate consent agreements: fraud in the inducement (untruths to encourage the signing) and fraud in the inception (knowing the signers didn't understand what they put their name to)

Taillieu also argued that the men were told that the names of their fraternity and university were not going to be used, "giving my clients relative anonymity.

"The fact that the fraternity brothers were arguably drunk makes their case potentially stronger," Leichter said.

Lies and Deception in the Media

One of the most amazing features of Cohen shtick is his uncanny ability to get some of the most famous people in the world on camera, answering ludicrous questions, like the time he asked a famous judge "what punishments should be handed down to suicide bombers?". 

So, how does Cohen get these famous people on camera?  He lies like a rug!  Check out his impressive list of public figures (James Baker, Donald Trump, Boutrous Boutrous Gali, Sam Donaldson, Ralph Nader and C. Everett Koop) and his wonderful, funny videos:

Oh, and lets not forget the Borat Music album of songs from the Borat movie including the song “Throw the Jew down the well”!

The central question regarding the fresh new brand of humor is how well the TCF contract will hold-up in the world courts.  In real-life Sacha Cohen is a charming Cambridge educated English major, as seen in this video.

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it

Anyone from the baby-boomer generation will instantly associate the Borat movie with the early Candid Camera TV show, before it was sterilized by lawsuits.  Just like Borat, the early Candid Camera episodes were tasteless, embarrassing to the "victims", and totally hilarious.

Recently, Alan Funt junior has revived the pre-lawsuit spirit of Candid Camera as in this lawsuit where an airport screener is asked to go through a human x-ray machine!  This court TV article notes the resulting lawsuit:

"Zelnick sought an unspecified amount in damages for battery, negligence, false imprisonment, misrepresentation and infliction of emotional distress.

Prior to the trial, Jones hesitated to speculate about an outcome, saying, "I am hoping for a verdict that will be fair to my client."

The contract to deceive

The folks at Twentieth Century Fox (TWF) are not dummies and you can be sure that their attorneys felt that their "contract for consent to deceive" is ironclad.  However, attorney's for the Frat boys point-out that there may be flaws in the contract, claiming that they boys only signed because they were told that the film would never be shown in the USA, and because they were impaired by alcohol!

But what about a situation where fraud and deception is used to secure the contract?  I'm not a lawyer, but I have to wonder how binding a contract is when it's predicated on fraud and lies?  The recent USA court ruling awarding 11.3 million dollars against a US blogger who wrote that someone was a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud" has made millions of people realize that Free Speech does not extend into lying.

The "Borat" move is successful for only one reason, crafty lawyers.  Using a loophole in contract law, the victims are duped into signing a contract that allegedly allows them to be defrauded:

"Most of the folks contacted by NEWSWEEK admit they barely read the release. Even if they did, they might not have grasped the legalese about waiving claims for "breach[es] of alleged moral behavior" and "fraud (such as any alleged deception or surprise about the Film)"—which is a nifty way of getting people to agree that it's OK to defraud them."

Unfortunately, if the courts rule against this practice (see mounting lawsuits below), the future of this hilarious comedy is in jeopardy.

Who are the potential Plaintiffs?

As I watched Borat, I saw a host of potential victims.  BTW, Pamela Anderson was "in on" the movie prank against her, so she does not count.

I feel really bad for the woman who was nearly killed when her horse fell on her.  I've known several people who have been killed when their horse fell on on them, and the Borat skit (and the ensuing audience aggression) was a foreseeable event of his inciting a near riot.  (Borat said "President George W. Bush drink the blood of "every man, woman, and child" killed in Iraq").  I hope that this lady gets millions.  She came within a hairs breath of being killed.

The Borat Movie Lawsuits

When I saw Borat, I look my 75 year-old mother-in-law, as an experiment to see if Borat’s raunchy humor would be appealing to a senior citizen.  She replies that Borat was very, very nasty, but she could not deny that she was laughing out loud at watching the duped victims spout nasty remarks at the prompting of the talented Sacha Baron Cohen.

Borat Lawsuit #1 – Racial Incitement

This article notes that German law is stricter than the USA when it comes to defamation:

Twentieth Century Fox has good lawyers, and it’s their contract to deceive that makes this movie a bestseller.

“Both lawsuits accuse British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen of disseminating hate propaganda.

"We are accusing him of defamation and inciting violence against Sinti and Roma," said Marko D Knudsen, chairman of the Antiziganism centre, which takes its name from the term for hostility towards gypsies.

The group objects to remarks, violence and discrimination against gypsies in the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

Borat Lawsuit 2 – The Frat Boys

This article notes that these Frat boys felt abused by being duped into getting drunk and pining for a return to the days of slavery.  However, the contract is carefully worded to allow TMZ to deceive them:

"The plaintiffs -- listed as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 -- were allegedly assured the film would not be shown in the U.S. and their identities would not be revealed.

They were both selected to appear in the movie and, according to the suit, taken "to a drinking establishment 'to loosen up' and provided alcoholic beverages." They claim they signed the movie releases after "heavy drinking."

Borat Lawsuit 3 - The glorious nation of Kazakhstan

This article notes that Kazakhstan is considering a lawsuit against Cohan and TCF:

"Mr Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way...(his) behavior is utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners, which is completely incompatible with ethics and civilized behavior."

Cohen has previously made a number of extreme jokes about the country, saying that its citizens would shoot a dog and then have a party, as well as intimating that local wine was created from fermented horse urine."

$100m painting bought for five bucks?

In other funny new, a woman on the David Letterman show claims to have bought an authentic Jackson Pollock painting for five dollars.  She claims that Jack the Dripper (a legendary drunken, talent-less hack) left a verifiable fingerprint in the paint, and the ugly piece of crap may be worth up to $100 million dollars:

"Now Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal art restorer, says he's matched a fingerprint on Horton's painting to fingerprints from a paint can found in Pollock's studio in East Hampton, New York and from a Pollock painting in a London gallery."


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