While the television and movie industries have long profited from and struggled with the issue of graphic depictions of violence, the legal issue is more settled as to plaintiffs’ attempts to tie what occurs on screen to what happens off. And this resolution at law not only sets the bar but legally may bar a key kind of litigation that follows in the aftermath of tragedies like the Aurora, Colo., mass shooting-homicide.
Even as litigation may be under discussion or filings on behalf of victims may occur, author Kareem Raheem bluntly has explained in the Independent as to why prospective litigants “are wasting their time.” He provides for his British audience a tight primer on studio-friendly tort liability defense precedents and why the law is squarely on “The Dark Knight Rises” studio Warner Bros’ side.
Warner Bros., parent company Time Warner Inc., was a named as a defendant in three key precedents where plaintiffs claimed that on-screen movie violence incited off-screen violence. These cases stemmed from: a video game “Doom” (Sanders v. Acclaim Entertainment, Inc. 188 F. Supp. 2d 1264, a claim brought by families of Columbine victims); a movie, “Natural Born Killers” (Byers v. Edmonson, 826 So. 2d 551, brought by the victim of a convenience store armed robbery); and a book-movie, “The Basketball Diaries,” which depicted a deadly school shooting (James v. Meow Media, Inc. 300 F. 3d 683, a claim brought by families of victims of a mass school shooting.) Such actions often are dismissed at the 12(b)(6) stage for failure to state a claim.
Raheem quotes Walter Dellinger, a visiting professor at Harvard and onetime acting Solicitor General, about the First Amendment protections afforded movies and television broadcasts: “There is simply no way for the government in a free society to shut down protected expression because someone uses that expression as a springboard for violence.”
Warner Brothers has said it is “deeply saddened” by the tragic events.