Supreme Court Declines to Review 'Cheers' Case : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Monday October 2 2:22 PM ET

Supreme Court Declines to Review 'Cheers' Case


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) on Monday allowed the actors who played Norm and Cliff on the hit television series ``Cheers'' to sue over the use of two robots they claim commercially exploited their identities.

The justices, without any comment or dissent, let stand a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in California that reinstated the lawsuit by actors George Wendt and John Ratzenberger against the show's producers after a federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed it.

Wendt, who played the accountant Norm, and Ratzenberger, who played the mailman Cliff, claimed their identities were commercially exploited without their permission by two life-size talking robots at a chain of ``Cheers''-type airport bars.

The actors filed suit against Host International Inc. in January 1993, three months before the comedy series ended its 11-year run on NBC. Host was licensed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc., to create the ``Cheers'' bars in several airports across the United States and in New Zealand.

Paramount later intervened with Host to assert its copyright ownership in ``Cheers.''

Wendt and Ratzenberger said the robots, which they claimed were built to resemble them, amounted to an unauthorized use of their likenesses, violating a California right-to-publicity law.

The law bars the sale of a product by using ``another's name, signature, photograph or likeness in any manner'' without the individual's permission.

The Paramount studio argued that as the creator of ``Cheers'' and owner of its copyright it has exclusive rights to the show and its characters, including the ability to license ''derivative works'' based on the series.

The studio said the robot figures in the airport bars, which were renamed ``Bob'' and ``Hank,'' bear no resemblance to the two actors.

After the appeals court ruling, Paramount asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. But the justices rejected the appeal, sending the case back to the judge in Los Angeles.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), October 02, 2000


>> The studio said the robot figures in the airport bars, which were renamed ``Bob'' and ``Hank,'' bear no resemblance to the two actors. <<

Then what are they worried about?

As I read the California law, all the studio must do to avoid penalty is to avoid giving the robots characteristics that bear a "likeness" to the actors. That means avoiding using their physical likeness, their voices, or to some extent the unique gestures or vocal mannerisms the actors developed to bring Cliff and Norm to life. Either that, or pay the actors for the fruits of their work.

Simple choices.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, October 02, 2000.

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