No Doubt and Activision Settle 3-yr Band Hero Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 4, 2012

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Three years ago, No Doubt filed a lawsuit against Activism with claims that the game Band Hero featured an avatar of No Doubt leading lady, Gwen Stefani, in an offensive and unauthorized manner.

The suit, which was supposed to go to jury trial in mere weeks, was settled with undisclosed details yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

No Doubt was suing the virtual game maker for violations of publicity rights, fraud, and breach of contract. The pop band maintained that having Gwen Stefani’s character sing in a deep man’s voice and talk about having sex with prostitutes was never discussed or agreed upon.

Activision, however, claimed they did talk about a feature that would “unlock”, or transform, the avatar and that this element of the game was “transformative” in nature. Stefani and the band argue in return that it was still too realistic a depiction of the singer. In other words, if the singer was made to look completely different and given a different name, implying that the avatar is no longer to be considered Gwen Stefani, lead singer of the actual band, No Doubt, the “transformative” defense may have held up. But the fact that the avatar looks the same and is still the likeness of Stefani after being “unlocked” to act in an obscene manner, undermines this defense.

It is not yet clear whether the company will retain the rights to depict the No Doubt front woman or the band’s songs, or whether the settlement stipulates that they remove Stefani from the game altogether.

Read more about contract law here.

Free Speech Violations?

Some issues of free speech were brought up during the case. Activision struck back against No Doubt claiming that not only did the band fail to uphold its contractual publicity responsibilities, but that their publicity rights claims threatened the company’s right to free speech.

After one judge ruled in favor of Activision on this point, an appeals court later sided with Stefani, “ruling that while video games get free speech protection, the First Amendment doesn’t bar a right of publicity claim […],” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

In a landmark case related to violence in video games in June 2012, the Supreme Court held that video games are protected free speech. So if it weren’t for the issue of publicity rights and contract violations, the freedom of speech defense may likely have taken the case in a different direction.

The following news clip was published in May, 2012, before the settlement.

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