Paramount Demands 'Wolf of Wall Street' Defamation Lawsuit Be Dismissed

On Monday, the studio attacks Stratton Oakmont alum Andrew Greene as "one of the malefactors" that inspired Scorsese's film.
Paramount Pictures
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

Meet Andrew Greene, who worked at the corrupt brokerage house Stratton Oakmont between 1993 and 1996 and claimed in a defamation lawsuit filed last month that he was the basis for the character Nicky "Rugrat" Koskoff in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street.

Was that smart?

On Monday, Paramount Pictures asked a New York federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit and took the opportunity to throw some elbows at Greene, who according to the studio's legal papers is an inactive member of the State Bar of California and was "intimately involved in the pervasive fraud and corruption that characterized the Stratton Oakmont securities operation in the 1990s."

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"Nobody can reasonably dispute that the Film is about the bizarre travesty that was Stratton Oakmont, and that plaintiff was one of the malefactors whose central role in Stratton Oakmont inspired Mr. Scorsese’s film," adds Paramount's motion to dismiss.

For now, the studio isn't arguing that the defamation claims should fail because the film was substantially true. Rather, Paramount's attorneys are arguing that the lawsuit should fail because the film's portrayal of "Nicky Koskoff" was not "of and concerning" Greene. And if that argument doesn't do the trick, the studio wants the lawsuit tossed because the movie is artistic and expresses the "newsworthy" nature of financial fraud.

The Wolf of Wall Street is undoubtedly wild. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, the head of a brokerage firm that exploited a type of pump-and-dump scam until being caught by federal prosecutors. Paramount's papers say the Scorsese picture is definitely not a "documentary," although some have credited it as being true to the spirit of Wall Street. In the film, based on Belfort's book, there are several employees at Stratton Oakmont featured, and one of them was toupee-wearing "Rugrat," of whom DiCaprio's Belfort remarked, "Swear to God, I want to choke him to death."

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In a lawsuit that also alleges invasion of privacy, Greene submits that the movie "contains various scenes wherein Mr. Greene's character is portrayed as a criminal, drug user, degenerate, depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics."

Greene believes his likeness in the film is unmistakable.

Paramount's response is to blast Greene as being "intimately involved in the pervasive fraud and corruption," and yet, also maintaining that the objectionable "Rugrat" character was a composite of several people associated with Stratton Oakmont.

"The Book did not have only one dishonest executive with a notable toupee," says Paramount's motion to dismiss, mentioning "self-proclaimed Swiss-banking expert Gary Kaminsky" as one example.

Paramount says the lawsuit relies upon a section of New York civil law that has been narrowly construed to protect the "non-consensual commercial appropriations of the name, portrait, or picture of a living person," and says in this case, no reasonable fact finder could claim that "Nicky" was a recognizable likeness of Andrew Greene."

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And even if the opposite is true, Paramount still believes Greene's claims should fail because the law only protects likeness appropriation for "purposes of trade," which judges have in past cases involving Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live ruled doesn't cover expressive works like entertainment.

"Indeed, because the use of Plaintiff’s image in the Film is related to a newsworthy purpose, the claim must be dismissed," says Paramount's motion. "Here, there can be no question that the Film, which explores the important issues of massive financial and securities fraud, was newsworthy. And, to the extent Plaintiff’s image was used in the Film, it was used to details this important topic."

Paramount, along with co-defendants Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way and Sikelia Productions, are being represented by attorney Louis Petrich. Here's the full motion to dismiss.

Twitter: @eriqgardner