Should Arnold Schwarzenegger sue for accent theft?

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Should Arnold Schwarzenegger sue for accent theft?

Tue Aug 31, 2010 @ 06:28AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Fun legal question of the day: Can Arnold Schwarzenegger sue a video game publisher over a character with a thick Austrian accent? 

Dan Nabel, an attorney at LA's Greenberg Glusker firm, asks that question after playing Starcraft II, released this summer by Activision-Blizzard.

The game features a mechanized soldier unit seemingly based on Schwarzenegger called the "Thor," with sound-alike dialogue derived from three of the Governator's movies, including "Predator," "True Lies," and "Conan the Barbarian."

Here's a look.

Nabel wonders whether Schwarzenegger's right of publicity -- his "likeness" -- covers that famous accent.

Before you laugh the question off, keep in mind there's been no shortage of eyebrow-raising publicity rights lawsuits lately, with expansive claims such as Lindsay Lohan's suit over a milkaholic baby named "Lindsay," Humphrey Bogart over a couch, and Hulk Hogan over a cereal-chomping animated wrestler.

Analyzing a recent decision concerning former collegiate athletes who sued EA over a sports game, Nabel identifies a possible test: "Has Arnold been 'transmogrified'?"

McbaneThat had us running to the dictionary to look up the word: "to change in appearance or form, esp. strangely or grotesquely"

Schwarzenegger knows a thing or two about transformation -- going from an actor hanging out with aliens in "Total Recall" to chief executive of California. 

Nabel's conclusion is that "there are some good facts for Arnold" in a potential case, but that Activision would also have a strong First Amendment defense, especially since parodies of the Schwarzenegger voice have run the gamut from the Hans and Franz bodybuilders on "Saturday Night Live" to the McBane character on "The Simpsons." Arnold never sued over those, so perhaps Activision has nothing to worry about.

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The Hollywood Reporter
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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