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Behind "Runaways" film, legal battle simmers.

Byline: Reuters

LOS ANGELES: At the Los Angeles premiere of "The Runaways" last week, screams reminiscent of a rock concert greeted real-life band members Cherie Currie and Joan Jett as they were introduced with stars Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.

Not enjoying a Hollywood moment that night: Jacqueline Fuchs, the fiery bass player who performed in the 1970s all-girl quintet as Jackie Fox but whose absence from the premiere mirrors her disappearance from the story of the Runaways, as told in the new film.

Producers of the punk biopic, which opens Friday, chose to move forward on the project without obtaining Fuchs life rights or those of Runaways guitarist Lita Ford. As a result, the bassist character was minimized, Fuchs name was changed and Jett even dropped a cherry bomb of a lawsuit on her former bandmate when she raised a stink about the movie.

"Fuchs tried to have the ... film halted, and has demanded to see the script, even though there is no character based on her," claims a lawsuit for tortious interference with business relationships, quietly filed against Fuchs in December by Jett, her label Blackheart Records and music producer Kenny Laguna. Jett and Laguna are executive producers on the Floria Sigismondi-directed, Apparition-released film.

The story of Jackie Fuchs and "The Runaways" provides timely instruction for producers hoping to develop biopics and other fact-based projects without getting life rights from everyone involved. It also highlights one of the hottest debates in entertainment law: With the rise in popularity of real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines film and TV, what rights are necessary to make a film based on actual people

Despite the occasional legal dustup (or, more likely, because of them), producers and studios often overcompensate by securing more rights than are actually required.

"I can think of four or five good reasons to acquire life-story rights, but needing them to make a movie isn t one of them," says David Halberstadter, a rights expert at Los Angeles law firm Katten.

Halberstadter says First Amendment protections are generally stronger than producers realize and are often enough to allow depictions of real people, assuming they re not defamatory and don t unlawfully invade someone s privacy. Life rights can be useful to take a person off the market or to gain access to materials that might not be public. Rights deals also typically require a subject to participate in marketing efforts, and they can give producers permission to fictionalize a story, which can help prevent complaints from people who don t like the way they re portrayed in the final product.

But even a legally sound project isn t immune from litigation. In the 1990s, Michael Polydoros, a schoolmate of the writer-director of "The Sandlot," sued 20th Century Fox claiming the movie invaded his privacy by including a character based on him (named Michael Palledorous). He lost.

Still, necessary or not, studios often snap up life rights as an insurance policy against potential lawsuits.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2009

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Mar 21, 2010
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