German court approves Thalidomide telefilm

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COLOGNE, Germany -- After more than a year of lawsuits and legal wrangling, a controversial German telefilm about the Thalidomide birth defect scandal of the 1960s has received court approval to go on the air.

Germany's federal constitutional court on Wednesday ruled that public broadcaster WDR may air "Side Effects" in November as planned.

The film is a dramatization of the real-life story of the German lawyer who, after his daughter was born deformed as a result of the drug, took on the pharmaceutical companies and won what, at the time, was the world's largest-ever damage settlement.

The "Side Effects" case is a precedent-setting one for film production in Germany.

The broadcast and international sale of the film was blocked last summer after drug company Gruenenthal, which manufactured Thalidomide under the brand Contergan in Germany, sued, claiming that production company Zeitsprung Entertainment and pubcaster WDR had greatly distorted the facts of the case.

After being defeated in several lower-court rulings, Grunenthal took the case to the constitutional court, Germany's highest legal authority.

The company wanted to prevent WDR from airing the film on Nov. 7, the 50th anniversary of Contergan's introduction into the German market. WDR plans to devote the entire evening to the drug scandal, with documentaries on the event complementing the "Side Effects" broadcast.

In its ruling, the court dismissed charges that producers had unfairly distorted the truth in their dramatization of real-life characters and events.

"A reasonably informed viewer (can be expected) to distinguish that characters depicted in the film are not to be understood as an all-embracing, factually precise representation of the relevant parties and their actions at the time," the court said in its ruling.

Zeitsprung producer Michael Souvignier hailed Wednesday's ruling as "a big step forward for our company and an even bigger one for Contergan victims and for all film producers in Germany."
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