A Recent Case Involving Defamation in Entertainment

Who Are The Parties In The Dispute From The Straight Outta Compton Film?

Gerald E. Heller, former NWA manager, an individual, is the Plaintiff.

The Defendants are: NBC Universal, Inc., director F. Gary Gray, O’shea Jackson (Ice Cube), Andre Young (Dr. Dre), The estate of Eric Wright (Easy E), Tomica Woods-Wright and the personal representative of the Estate of Eric Wright; Comptown Records, Inc., a corporation, Scott Bernstein, Legendary Pictures, Xenon Picture, Inc./Xenon Entertainment Group, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus.

What Facts Led To Their Dispute?

The film, “Straight Outta Compton,” failed to get Jerry Heller’s consent, didn’t give him compensation, stole his work and tarnished his reputation, while actor Paul Giamatti portrayed him as the character “Jerry” in the film, according to https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2496618-heller.html.

The film portrayed Heller as being responsible for the break up of the rap group NWA, for taking advantage of the artists in the group, withholding about $75,000 from Ice Cube, said he was eating out at brunches while contracts were being drawn up and finalized, and that he was fired by Easy E.

He alleges misappropriation of likeness, tortious interference, breach of settlement agreement and copyright infringement, after entering a verbal contract with varies parties to collaborate on a book that the parties prepared, with at least four screen plays and two of them being titled, “Straight Outta Compton.” Heller believes the film was on those screenplays discussed and scenes from the film were based off the book to his works.

Identifying and Discussing the Legal Issues Involved

Straight Outta Compton is the largest grossing music story based film to date and a $110 million defamation lawsuit was filed against the producers of the film by Jerry Heller and his attorney Michael Shapiro. Heller is known as a successful and respectable business professional in the music industry functioning as both a creative and business executive. Members of Ruthless Records entered an exclusive recording contract and Ruthless Records arranged Heller to provide management services to the members, except for Ice Cube, to earn an industry standard of 20% commission rate. Under his contract, NWA was successfully managed. Ruthless Records also entered a series of exclusive music publishing contract with defendants, entitling Ruthless to a percentage of gross music publishing revenues generated by music compositions written in whole or in part by three artists in the NWA group, Easy E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. Heller believes NWA continued to generate an income from multiple streams.

In 2001, Heller entered into an oral contract for services to collaborate and write an original screenplay relating the story of Ruthless Records and NWA. At all times, the screenplay was Heller’s property, and in exchange for services the defendants were to receive equal credit and equal compensation as a writer and producer of any film based on the screenplay that he commissioned them to write. In 2006, Jerry Heller and his co-author wrote a published book entitled Ruthless, a Memoir, that is copyrighted. In 2015, the film, “Straight Outta Compton,” was released and he believes and alleges that the film is based on the screenplay drafted by the defendants and sold without his authority or consent, alongside being portrayed as the “bad guy,” in the film. Heller states a significant amount of the film’s content is factually accurate, converted and stolen from his copyright protected and published book and/or the screenplays that he owns
Has the case been resolved? If not, what do you expect will be the result?
On October 30th, of 2015, a defamation (libel and slander), trade libel, false light, misappropriation of likeness, intentional inference with a prospective economic advantage, negligent interference with a prospective economic advantage, breach of contract (settlement agreement), breach of oral contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (oral contract), conversion and copyright infringement lawsuit was filed in Superior Court of the State of California, in the county of Los Angeles.
The future expectations of this case will depend upon facts that can be proven.

If in deed Jerry Heller and his legal team can prove that these allegations are true, the defendants will have to respond and pay what is owed, if not, this case brings to attention the fact that there are laws that will protect creative works, especially in the music entertainment business. It may also very pending the facts behind verbal verses written agreements and which one’s hold value and protection.