According to sources, “a depraved, drug-fueled criminal, misogynist stock broker” has filed a defamation lawsuit against the valiant producers of The Wolf of Wall Street for depicting him as such. Broker Andrew Greene insists that the character producers came up with, Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff, is supposedly, loosely, based on him. Greene was head of Stratton Oakmont’s corporate finance department and an active member on the board of directors. Greene, who’s name and nickname were changed for the movie is mentioned by his real name in Jordan Belfort’s memoir by the same title, from which the movie is based.
When I reached out to an attorney to gauge whether or not Greene actually has a case here, the general consensus is that more research needs to be done, but the producers shouldn’t have anything to worry about. However, the individual who chose not to be quoted by name did have the following thoughts:
My instinct is that Scorsese has nothing to worry about. The First Amendment provides broad protections for artists. The plaintiff’s name doesn’t appear in the movie and the film is a work of fiction. Viewers assume that characters are combined, exaggerated, and fictionalized, so I don’t see how the plaintiff can really argue that his reputation has been damaged, even among people who know him.
The plaintiff sued under a New York Civil Rights Law (the complaint is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/207970747/Wolf; the law is here: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/CVR/5/50. I can’t see how the film violated the law: they didn’t use the plaintiff’s name or picture and I’m not sure a movie is for the purpose of “trade,” as the law requires. This is where having access to a legal database would help but I don’t have access to the cases that have analyzed this statute.
There’s also a defamation cause of action, which is fun, because if you sue for defamation, you have to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements are false. This means that if you’re saying it’s libelous to depict you being a misogynist asshole who patronizes prostitutes, the defense gets to introduce evidence that you are a misogynist asshole who patronizes prostitutes. As I said, I’m not sure that the plaintiff can even demonstrate that the character is supposed to be him, but even if he clears that hurdle, the defense would get to talk about what a horrible person he is.
If I had to guess, this guy wants publicity or, more likely, a settlement payout. Lawyers call this “nuisance value”.
Getting into really speculative territory: if the defendants want to fight this, I bet they could not only get the case dismissed, but also get attorneys’ fees or sanctions. That happens in these high-profile arts cases, see the similar case about the Hurt Locker, or the South Park “What What in the Butt” case. Judges don’t like frivolous cases that discourage free speech. I really haven’t researched this point, but if I were Scorsese’s lawyer, this would be something I would look into. Although apparently, there is at least one case where a fictional portrayal resulted in a libel verdict. http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/archives/26196/
There you have it my goodfellas,