083: Very Dazed, and Very Confused

Stella Case No. 083, Originally Published: 12 January 2005

In October 2004, Bobby Wooderson, Andy Slater and Richard “Pink” Floyd, all of Huntsville, Texas, sued Universal Studios, based in Los Angeles, California, in a state court in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The trio claims in the suit that director Richard Linklater used their names and likenesses when he wrote the script for the 1993 movie Dazed and Confused, which includes (among many others) characters by the names of David Wooderson, Ron Slater and Randall “Pink” Floyd.

“The use of Plaintiffs’ names and likenesses in the movie is undeniable,” the suit says. “At no time did Plaintiffs ever agree or consent to the use of their names or likenesses.” The suit says the film caused them “relentless harassment, embarrassment and ridicule,” and that it caused their neighbors to “think poorly” of them. Worse, the characters say things in the film that the real-life people never said.

Poster reads, "Dazed and Confused ...See it with a bud."
A portion of the movie’s poster, cropped to ensure the emoticon and tagline are both included and large enough to see. (Gramercy Pictures)

“We had fun in high school, but there is nothing true about that movie,” Floyd said in a press release. “Yet, I am having to deal with it all the time.”

Attorney Bill Robbins III says the pot-smoking character named Slater makes people think the real Slater uses drugs. “Like, for example, the scene that shows me showing somebody how to make a bong in shop class,” says Slater, now 45. “I never did that. But they used my name and they show me making a bong in shop class.” That never happened, then? “Oh, no, they did that. But it wasn’t me.”

That’s right, it wasn’t Slater; it was a fictional character in a movie that did it.

So why was the suit filed in New Mexico? Because, attorney Robbins says, New Mexico has a longer statute of limitations than other states when it comes to defamation and “false light.” Associated attorney Ernest Freeman says that the 2002 DVD release has made the problem worse. “It struck a chord with people,” he says. “It became exponentially more popular” after the video came out. Universal has not commented on the suit, but has filed a motion to move the suit to federal court.

Would it be defamatory to wonder aloud just how dazed and confused the trio is to have not filed suit in 1993 if there was a problem? Maybe they’re just in it for the money. No, attorney Freeman says: “They’re not the type of people who are out to get a cheap buck.” Indeed not. Surely they prefer the more expensive kind.

Meanwhile, Floyd says he has checked “D&C” message boards online to see what film fans think of the suit. “700 messages. Some of them were positive, but most were negative. ‘You losers — stop smoking those joints!’”

Sources

  • “Suit Filed Against Filmmaker”, Albuquerque Journal, October 9, 2004.
  • “‘Dazed and Confused’ Guys Are Amused, but Still Suing”, Washington Post, 19 December 2004.

Case Status

In his commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD, director Richard Linklater said the lawsuit was “summarily dismissed.”

My 2021 Thoughts on the Case

The guys didn’t specify a specific damage request in the lawsuit. “It’s no different from a case where your leg is cut off in an automobile accident,” said their entertainment lawyer at the time, Bill Robins. “What is that leg worth?”

Really?” asked the Washington Post reporter, including the italics. “Is being portrayed as a dope-smoking teenager in a movie really comparable to getting your leg cut off? Does having acquaintances ask you to smoke dope really cause ‘severe emotional distress’?”

“Yes, says Floyd: ‘It’s dreadful.’”

The court apparently didn’t think so: I guess taking 11 years to file the suit was too long, dude.

In 2013, the film received the Star of Texas award from the Texas Film Hall of Fame.

Note: This was a 2004 case even though it was not published online until just after the new year.

Letters

Mail from Case #82, the SLAPP case of Sharper Image vs. Consumer’s Union:

Burt in California: “Interestingly, I never heard of the original CU review. Had SI kept its legal hounds at bay, I would have had the marketing-induced notion that their air cleaner was actually good. Because of their legal battle, I now know the truth — and won’t be buying one for my mother after all.”

Michael in Ohio, agrees: “This lawsuit is supposed to help them keep their business flourishing? I occasionally shop SI for myself and to buy gifts, and I have always been satisfied with their products. I think from now on I’ll get my gadget fix elsewhere. We should all do what we can to stop this kind of corporate misbehavior.”

Another reader took note that SLAPP suits are only illegal in some states:

Aime in New Hampshire: “Would it be possible for you to provide a list of which states do and do not have SLAPP legislation/protection? It would be good for those of us who would write to our legislators to get that implemented in states that haven, so far, done the right thing. I can’t even begin to think where to find that information. I was considering getting an ionic breeze and I don’t get Consumer Reports; thanks for publishing this story!”

As with many good ideas suffering from resistance from well-heeled lawyers, there’s a web site. 🙂 The California Anti-SLAPP Project’s site has a lot of info about SLAPPs, including [in 2004] the status of various state laws and legislation, which reports a bill regulating SLAPPs in New Hampshire failed in 1994. Today [2021], they direct readers in search of “information about anti-SLAPP laws in states other than California, visit the Public Participation Project.”

John in California: “This is the BEST ever TSA I’ve seen. You clearly laid out why Sharper Image was wrong in filing their suit and it was some of the most compelling journalism I have read. I am sincere: I am not trying to flatter you (I don’t need any favors from you … unless you count the continuation of ‘This is True’ and TSA!) I’ll be curious to see if anyone who is more experienced in law has any complaints about this TSA!”

Well sure, John: they’re called attorneys:

Mark, an attorney in Missouri: “Like most people, you assume that a SLAPP sut is something that large corporations use to silence smaller foes. And, obviously, that was the context of the Sharper Image suit. What I think you have overlooked is the degree to which left wing so-called public interest groups use SLAPPS for precisely the same purpose silencing or chilling advocacy with which they disagree. I have several times defended a client under assault from one of these pro malo groups; the client’s sin was advocating something that they disagreed with.”

You “assume facts not in evidence,” Mark. I cannot use one case as an example of every possible case! Just because a law was passed to stop one sort of abuse doesn’t mean that is the only kind of abuse possible. One must view the lineup of “frivolous lawsuits” as a whole before complaining that something has been overlooked. I’m publishing as fast as I can!

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2 Comments on “083: Very Dazed, and Very Confused

  1. Thanks for the link to the Public Participation Project. Very easy to locate which states have good laws and which have weak or no laws. And the case you cited shows the need for people to push to get the laws passed.

    Reply
  2. I’m not a lawyer but how does New Mexico have jurisdiction over a case filed by plaintiffs in Texas against a defendant in California?

    That’s where the plaintiffs filed it. The “why” is explained in the story. As you saw, it didn’t work. -rc

    Reply

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