NBCU, CBS strike back in 'Bruno' defamation case

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NBCU, CBS strike back in 'Bruno' defamation case

Fri Apr 02, 2010 @ 12:16PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Bruno-aita EXCLUSIVE: NBC Universal and CBS have fired back in the $110 million defamation lawsuit filed in December by Palestinian activist Ayman Abu Aita against the congloms, Sacha Baron Cohen and David Letterman over a scene in "Bruno" that allegedly portrayed Aita as a "terrorist group leader."

Aita claims that Baron Cohen represented himself during filming of the Universal-distributed comedy as a German filmmaker doing a project about the Palestinian cause. Letterman and CBS are defendants because "The Late Show" featured the scene during an interview segment with Cohen last July.

In responding to the case, the NBCU and CBS make a simple argument:

The cases should be tossed, they say, because neither Aita nor Baron Cohen is a U.S. citizen. As such, they argue the court doesn't have jurisdiction to hear a complaint where "an alien plaintiff sues an alien defendant."

According to NBC's motion to dismiss, that applies "even where the plaintiff also sues other defendants who are U.S. citizens." CBS' lawyers piggy-back that argument in their own motion, pointing to NBC's arguments in a version of "Yeah, what he said."

Interestingly, these arguments come just as the Supreme Court hears an important case testing the validity of so-called "F-cubed" class action litigation, where foreign shareholders sue foreign companies for foreign securities violations in U.S. courts.

Not that network lawyers probably care. Aita could probably take Cohen out of the picture and re-file an amended complaint, but the studios are probably just trying to test whether Aita is really serious about trying to collect $110 million in a lawsuit that's probably got as good a shot at success as a "Bruno" sequel winning an Oscar.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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