EA Beats John Dillinger’s Heirs Thanks to Marilyn Monroe and the First Amendment

Video Game Law Blog

June 23, 2011

Video game developer Electronics Arts ("EA") was reportedly sued by the descendents of John Dillinger, a bank robber who was killed by FBI agents in 1934 after a 14 month crime spree. EA developed the popular "Godfather" and "Godfather II" games in which a weapon, similar to a Thompson submachine gun, was named "The Dillinger".

It has been reported that Dillinger's family argued that they control their relative's right of publicity, citing a 2006 case regarding the retroactivity of Indiana's 1996 right-to-publicity statute.

It has been also reported that EA countered this argument with a 2007 New York case in which it was found that similar publicity rights could not be granted to the descendants of Marilyn Monroe because she died before the law was enacted.

Ultimately, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana has reportedly ruled against Dillinger's descendants and has found that the Indiana Supreme Court would likely rule that Indiana's right-of-publicity statute does not apply to personalities that died before it became law. The judge has also reportedly ruled that references to Dillinger in pop culture have increased his association with the Thompson submachine gun and, consequently, EA's use of the name is considered to be free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Coverage at NWItimes.com