What's In a Name? Not Much, Court Says

A California court has ruled that, except for big-time celebrities, moviemakers can base characters in their film on any private citizen - and not have to pay them.

In a decision centering on the 1993 movie "The Sandlot," the Second District Court of Appeals says such fictional characters are "protected by constitutional guarantees of free expression."

"The Sandlot," a story set in the 1960s, featured a nerdy boy named Michael Polledorous. Michael Polydoros, a classmate of the movie's director, David Mickey Evans, claimed the film unfairly appropriated his name and likeness.

Mr. Polydoros sued the filmmakers and its distributor, 20th Century Fox, for misappropriation, invasion of privacy, negligence, and defamation.

The court of appeals, in its ruling last week, upheld a Santa Monica judge who ruled against Polydoros before the trial started.

"Simply because the film is made for profit and promoted and advertised doesn't take it out of the realm of constitutional protection," says Karen Brodkin, an attorney for the filmmakers.

But a producer can't just go out and make a story about a basketball player named Michael Jordan without his permission, says Tom Brackey, Polydoros's lawyer. "So what the court is saying is that you have to be a celebrity to have a right to privacy."

The court said the film was not defamatory.

"No sensible person could assume or believe from seeing 'The Sandlot' that it purports to depict the life of Michael Polydoros," the decision said.

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