Showtime Networks, BBC, and the producers of a Whitney Houston documentary entitled Can I Be Me? have been hauled into court by the late singer's ex-husband Bobby Brown and the estate of daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. In a complaint filed Wednesday (Nov. 28) in New York federal court, the Brown family is seeking $2 million for their inclusion in the film.
"The film contains footage that Brown and BKB has never consented to have released," states the complaint. "Brown and BKB appear in the film for a substantial period of time, in excess of thirty (30) minutes. The footage was actually recorded prior to the divorce in 2007 between Brown and Houston. Brown never signed or executed a release for the airing of the material that appears in the film. The footage of Brown is approximately fifteen (15) years old."
Brown claims that the film amounts to a misappropriation of publicity rights as well as a violation of the Lanham Act.
Although the lawsuit states that filmmakers usually obtain releases from those who speak on camera, the First Amendment provides a broad defense to works of expressive speech. Nevertheless, in a complaint that alleges filmmakers tried without success to get an interview with Mr. Brown, he will attempt to overcome such free speech impediments. For instance, Brown's lawsuit discusses how his name, persona, and likeness were utilized by producers in marketing and promotion of the film.
The complaint (read here) seeks a permanent injunction on top of monetary damages. Additionally, Brown is pursuing a separate breach-of-contract claim against B2 Entertainment, a dissolved company that had a deal with Brown's company for the Bravo reality series, Being Bobby Brown.
According to the complaint, "B2 agreed not to use any materials associated with Brown’s family friends or employers without his consent in TV or film projects," but nonetheless, producers of the Whitney Houston documentary are said to have obtained Being Bobby Brown footage for their own use on Can I Be Me? For the supposed "side deal" between producers of Being Bobby Brown and Can I Be Me?, Brown is raising a tortious interference claim against defendants.
Houston died of a drug overdose in 2012. Her daughter Bobbi died tragically at the age of 22 three years later. As for Brown, who first hit it big as an R&B singer in the late 1980s for the group New Edition, he survives and is now looking to control exploitation of his name. He previously filed a similar lawsuit over a TV One documentary about his daughter, although in that case, he also alleged "defamatory and untrue depictions" of his life, specifically the implication he was abusive. That case was settled about a year ago after a judge refused to enjoin distribution.