'Billions' Battle: Showtime's Libel In Fiction Win Upheld by Appeals Court

Billions - Paul Giamatti -Publicity still - H 2020
Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

Showtime and the creators of Billions didn't defame the Cayuga Nation by depicting a fictionalized member of the tribe engaged in shady business dealings with the Rhoades family, a New York appellate panel held on Tuesday.

In August 2019, The Cayuga Nation and Clint Halftown sued Showtime, along with Billions co-creators Brian Koppelman and Andrew Ross Sorkin and writer-producer David Levien, alleging the drama portrayed them as participating in an illegal casino land deal and bribing a public official.

In July, Judge Kathryn E. Freed dismissed the suit, finding the Cayuga Nation can't sue for defamation in response to the series because the allegedly offensive material involved the tribe as a governing body, not its individual members.

The tribe appealed, and on Tuesday the appellate court affirmed Freed's decision.

"To the extent asserted by plaintiff Cayuga Nation, their claims were correctly dismissed on the ground that a governmental entity cannot maintain a libel claim," states the opinion. "While plaintiffs argue that Native American tribes are a unique kind of government entity, they do not explain how that uniqueness bears on the libel analysis at issue."

The appellate court also agreed with Freed that Halftown sharing a surname and a similar tribal role with a fictional character in the series isn't enough to establish that a viewer "would have no difficulty linking the two" and affirmed the dismissal of his claim too.