The family of famed gangster and bank robber John Dillinger have lost a 20-month federal court legal battle against Electronic Arts. The Dillinger clan sued EA for using the gangster’s name to represent a special machinegun in the Godfather and Godfather II video games. The EA-developed video games are extensions of the storylines of the popular Mario Puzo novels and the Francis Ford Coppola-directed movies.
On Thursday Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana ruled against the family, saying that their claim of copyright infringement was not valid.
The Dillinger family claimed that they control the right of publicity in connection with their infamous relative, who was killed by FBI agents in 1934 after 14-month crime spree. His most infamous crimes included a bank robbery in East Chicago, which left one police officer dead, and Dillinger’s escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point where he was awaiting trial for the killing.
Lawyers for the family cited the 2006 case of Scalf v. Lake County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, where a Lake County judge ruled that the state’s 1996 right-to-publicity statute should be applied retroactively to Dillinger’s family for the county’s use of the name to promote a museum dedicated to Dillinger.
EA argued using a 2007 case out of New York in which a judge ruled that the descendants of actress Marilyn Monroe could not be granted similar publicity rights to her name because Monroe died before the law was enacted. After reviewing both decisions, Magnus-Stinson agreed with the New York court ruling, saying that the state’s right-of-publicity statute doesn’t apply to personalities who died before it became law.
EA was granted a motion of summary judgment and the judge further ruled that depictions of Dillinger in popular culture have shown a deep association with the Thompson submachine gun. Because of that association, the judge said that EA was exercising its right to free speech in using the name, which is protected by the First Amendment.
Source: NWI Times