Many popular video games use the likenesses of famous athletes, rock stars, and actors. But when Call of Duty: Black Ops II recreated a former Central American dictator, that former Central American dictator was not happy about it — or, at least, not happy about not getting paid.
Panama’s former military ruler Manuel Noriega filed a lawsuit in California Tuesday against Activision Blizzard Inc. — the makers of Call of Duty — for misusing, exploiting, and misappropriating his image for economic gain; his suit claims that his presence in Black Ops II aided sales of the 2012 game, which features a Noriega lookalike who just so happens to go by the name of Manuel Noriega.
He starts off the game helping the CIA hunt down a terrorist, but he eventually switches teams to help the very same terrorist he helped the CIA nab. Capturing Noriega eventually becomes one of the game's objectives.
The suit argues that the “plaintiff was portrayed as an antagonist and portrayed as the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes,” and depicted "as a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.”
His video game persona mimics real life in that the US government relied on and paid Noriega, now 80, as a CIA informant for decades, leading up to his brutal rule in Panama during the 1980s. But his drug smuggling, racketeering, and killing eventually became too unappealing for the US, which invaded Panama in 1989 and captured Noriega.
This is not the first time Activision has been slapped with a “celebrity” lawsuit over one of its video game characters — the Santa Monica-based company settled in 2012 with No Doubt over an appearance in the game Band Hero. And several other video game makers have had to address similar lawsuits. In a May settlement, EA Sports agreed to pay $40 million to a group of US college athletes who brought issue with their images appearing in the company’s games. Lindsay Lohan is currently suing the makers of Grand Theft Auto V for allegedly using her likeness.
But while the US may have strong protections for celebrities in these instances, it’s unclear whether a non-US citizen and former enemy of the state like Noriega has any standing in court. Also unclear is whether his suit will inspire US General David Petraeus to sue for the awkwardly timed appearance of his character in the same Call of Duty game.
Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB