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A California federal judge has rejected NBA superstar Gilbert Arenas’ attempts to block VH1’s Basketball Wives and turned down a request to stop former fiancé Laura Govan from appearing on the show and mentioning his name.
Further, Shed Media, the producers of the show, have successfully got the judge to grant an anti-SLAPP motion that strikes all of Arenas’ claims as an impingement of free speech except for allegations of a publicity rights infringement. There, the judge dismisses the claim, but is allowing Arenas to file an amended complaint.
The just-released decision comes as a huge relief for VH1, which plans to debut the latest LA-based season of Basketball Wives on Monday.
In recent months, the show has been hit with a number of lawsuits and legal warnings from various NBA players including Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard.
Arenas’ lawsuit got the furthest, requiring Judge Dolly Gee to examine whether Govan’s association with a show titled “Basketball Wives” could establish a connection to Arenas’ likeness and trademark.
The judge says yes — that it will be likely that Govan will discuss Arenas on the show and that the show’s raison d’etre is to spotlight female relationships with professional basketball players like Arenas. Even if the show is careful about overtly touting such a connection between Govan and Arenas, media outlets will spot it. According to the decision:
“In an age of tabloid journalism and celebrity obsession, news outlets frequently uncover and publicize connections between celebrities. For example, in the run-up to the 2008 election, it was widely reported that then-Senator Obama was a distant relative of then-Vice President Cheney, though presumably neither individual sought to be associated with the other.”
In sum, there’s no escaping the fact that Arenas becomes part of this show in some form.
However, mere appropriation of Arenas’ name and likeness doesn’t necessarily equate to misappropriation, writes the judge…
“On the record currently before the Court, it appears that any references in BWLA to Arenas will be incidental to the show’s plot as a whole. At its core, the show is about the women who have or have had relationships with basketball players rather than the players themselves. Thus, the show appears to be transformative.”
Further, the judge finds there’s also fair use to Arenas’ name because there’s a matter of public interest involved. Observers might find it odd that a silly VH1 reality TV show could qualify as such importance under the First Amendment, but Judge Gee clarifies:
“Arenas suggests that any discussion of his family life is not sufficiently related to his celebrity to render BWLA’s use of his identity a matter of public concern. This contention is belied by the tens of thousands of Twitter users who follow Arenas as he tweets about a variety of mundane occurrences. “
Judge Gee then goes on to note there’s little evidence of “actual malice,” thus ridding of the defamation claim, and that the show’s advertising doesn’t imply any endorsement on Arenas’ part, thus nixing the commercial misappropriation claim. As for Arenas’ trademark allegations, the judge finds there isn’t any likelihood that viewers will be confused. “Although Arenas’ marks are strong,” writes Judge Gee, “they are completely dissimilar to Shed Media’s title. No one would confuse Arenas with a basketball wife.”
Arenas will be resigned to watching the show, and if he spots any gruesome misappropriation of his likeness, can refile an amended complaint in the next couple of weeks. But given the show will have come out and the judge’s stated conclusion he’s unlikely to prevail, we can say that Arenas has been soundly trounced
on in court by the mother of his four children.
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