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After Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” opened to huge box office in 2007, producers were hit with a flood of lawsuits from the unsuspecting dupes who appeared in the film without full knowledge of what was really going on.
Fox, which released the film and spearheaded the defense of the suits, took a particularly aggressive stance and ended up squashing allegations they had violated rights of publicity and fraudulently induced people. In at least one case, Fox even got a judge to make the plaintiffs pay the studio’s legal fees for their trouble.
Now the publicity machine is ramping up for Cohen’s much anticipated follow-up, “Bruno,” in which he plays a gay Austrian journalist who interviews Americans and generally makes them uncomfortable.
Given the popularity of the first film, how was Cohen able to keep the charade going for a second go-round?
According to The Smoking Gun, Cohen raised the stakes on the project by having lawyers create shell dummy corporations and websites to help fool people into thinking the “documentary” was a legitimate enterprise.
This make us wonder: Claims of fraud are much more likely to succeed when plaintiffs can show they signed release forms under false pretenses. Is claiming affiliation with a sham company going to get producers in trouble this time?
Flash back to the “Borat” lawsuits. In the case brought by an etiquette trainer and a driver’s education teacher who both claimed to have signed an inapplicable waiver, the judge ruled that the waiver was sufficient because it included language that disclaimed any representations being made, and thus, foreclosed the possibility that anybody could sue for misrepresentation.
“Bruno” producers and the studio–this time Universal–have probably done the same thing, especially given how much litigation the first film prompted. The question is whether this will let them get away with all sorts of false affiliations.
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