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,
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
"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
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
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat
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
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
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
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."