The notorious criminal Henry Hill, as played by actor Ray Liotta, once summarized a key wiseguy ethos, observing in a scene in the film Goodfellas: “If anyone complained twice, they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.”
So will Frank Sivero, the actor known for his portrayals of organized crime family members like Genco Abbandando (Godfather II) and Frankie Carbone (Goodfellas), take a cue and leave off his beef over the legendary Fox Television cartoon show The Simpsons — this after just receiving a second hard legal anti-SLAPP from a California appellate court?
Sivero had sued Fox in 2014, asserting The Simpsons misappropriated his likeness and more with its mobbed-up, minor character Louie (click on photo above to see clips of him in action). Sivero claimed that two of the writers for the animated series, living next to him in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks, knew he was developing a hoodlum character for Goodfellas, the movie that would be an Oscar-winning hit for director Martin Scorsese and stars Liotta, Sivero, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino.
But it was Sivero who took legal umbrage at Louie and the Simpsons’ satire of his criminal characters, suing Fox and others with claims for: 1) common law infringement of the right of publicity; 2) misappropriation of name and likeness; 3) misappropriation of ideas; 4) interference with prospective economic advantage; 5) unjust enrichment.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rita Miller earlier had granted Fox’s motion to strike on the basis of California’s anti-SLAPP statute, rejecting the lawsuit along with Sivero’s $250-million demand. She found that Sivero had little chance of prevailing in his action, which the court could toss under the anti-SLAPP laws as a potential harm to the defendants’ exercise of their First Amendment rights, including to satirize public figures.
A three-judge panel for California’s Second Appellate District reviewed Sivero’s appeal and upheld Miller.
The court reiterated that the Simpsons character Louie offered more than a mere likeness or literal depiction of Sivero, it distorted his characters for purposes of parody. Finding Fox’s use of Sivero’s likeness in the television show transformative, the court granted Fox First Amendment protection.
“Louie is a cartoon character with yellow skin, a large overbite, no chin, and no eyebrow. Louie has a distinctive high-pitched voice which, as the trial court pointed out, has ‘no points of resemblance’,” to Sivero, wrote appellate judge Kerry Bensinger.
Notably, Sivero admitted in his suit that his likeness had been “Simpsonized,” which, according to the appellate opinion, means he had conceded effectively that it was “transformed by the creative and artistic expressions distinctive to The Simpsons.”
The appellate judges found that Fox’s transformative use defense blocked completely Sivero’s claims for infringement of his right of publicity and for misappropriation of his name and likeness.