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Last year, a New York judge shocked many in the entertainment industry by banning the broadcast of Lifetime Television’s telefilm Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story. After Lifetime slammed the ruling as one that was “unprecedented and would cause grave and irreparable damage not just to Lifetime but to the constitutional protections for speech,” New York Supreme Court’s appellate division issued a stay.
On Thursday, the cable network ensured no injunction by getting an appellate court to declare that such action would constitute an “unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.”
Christopher Porco himself was attempting to stop the movie titled Romeo Killer about the ripped-from-the-headlines saga of the murder of Peter Porco and the attempted murder of his wife, Joan Porco; the resulting criminal investigation; and the prosecution and conviction of their son for those crimes. The plaintiff, who was in jail and hadn’t seen the film, sued under New York State’s version of publicity rights, alleging that the movie was a “substantially fictionalized account … about plaintiff and the events that led to his incarceration.”
Lifetime argued that “the essential elements of the movie are true and accurate and based on court and police records, interviews with persons involved, and historical and other documents.” Nevertheless, the New York judge decided not to credit the “newsworthy” exceptions to New York’s law in an analysis of whether the film should be stopped. Instead, he noted that the film appeared to be “fictionalized” and said he was “not persuaded” that monetary damages would be sufficient redress.
The cable network then went begging to an appellate court, citing among other things the millions of dollars spent acquiring rights and a million dollars more spent promoting it. It got to air the film — and even touted it as as the “Lifetime Original Movie Chris Porco doesn’t want you to see” — but the dispute continued at the appellate level.
“Plaintiff has failed to show such immediate and irreparable public harm,” says the new ruling. “Its broadcast would not create the type of imminent and irreversible injury to the public that would warrant the extraordinary remedy of prior restraint. Rather, any alleged harm or injury flowing from the content of the film would be limited to plaintiff alone. That portions of the movie may be fictionalized, dramatized or embellished does not constitute a sufficient basis for the imposition of a prior restraint enjoining its broadcast.”
The case now continues at New York Superior Court, where Porco can still attempt to demonstrate that the film violated his rights.
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