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Breaking Down the Law: Joe Exotic Television Series Starring Nicholas Cage

Joe Exotic Television Series Starring Nicholas Cage

One thing to come out of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders is the phenomenon that is Joe Exotic, the Tiger King.

The popular documentary on Netflix was viewed by over 64 Million households here in the U.S., making it the most watched show on Netflix over the past couple months.

Now there is an announcement that a television series starring Nicholas Cage as Joe Exotic is in the works.

But poor Joe remains in Federal prison with no chance of getting out any time soon absent a Pardon.

So the question people have now is whether Joe Exotic has received any royalties fro the successful documentary, and will he get any royalties from the new television series?

Here to discuss the issue is attorney Matt Hoffmann with Battle Born Injury Lawyers.

Thanks, etc.

1. So before we get to the television series, did Joe Exotic profit from the documentary on Netflix?

- My understanding is he did not.

- Remember that the documentary was never intended to be a 5 year project. It just worked out that way because crazier and crazier things kept happening.

- But from I can tell, Joe Exotic wanted publicity and agreed to be the subject of the documentary for free.

- Obviously he got the publicity, but it certainly has not helped him turn a profit - he’s in prison.

2. So what about the new television series? It’s based on him, so I assume he will get some kind of royalties from it?

- First, there is no reason he could not. He’s not profiting from his crime, per se, which you cannot do, and there’s nothing prohibiting someone who is incarcerated from earning money from something like royalties.

- And it is common in Hollywood to buy someone’s “Life Rights,” which is the rights to their true life story.

- However, this is usually done to get the exclusive on an interesting story, to get direct access to the person, to be the first to produce it, and to avoid being sued - but it is almost never legally required.

- It is basically a Free Speech issue: A writer is free to use any publicly known facts about an event or person.

- And when someone is a public figure, the facts of their life are likely well-known and fair-game for dramatization.

- Take the movie “The Social Network,” which was about Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook.

- Mark Zuckerberg had zero involvement with the movie’s creation and received zero royalties from it, even though he is the basis for the main character.

- But you notice the movie centered around a lawsuit brought against him, which is public. Because it is public, the facts from that lawsuit are fair game, so long as there is not a defamatory portrayal that is blatantly untrue.

- So with Joe Exotic, you have someone who allowed 5 years of his life to be published in a documentary.

- Using those events to create a fictional character “based on true events” is a form of public expression, which is protected free speech.

- Joe Exotic could try to sue for Invasion of Privacy or False Light (although I think that is unlikely no matter how bad they make him look), but in my opinion he’d have almost no chance of winning such a lawsuit.

- If Joe’s likeness was put on a product in order to sell it, that’s a totally different matter, and something that is not protected free speech.