Alabama Judge Refuses to Dismiss Publicity Rights Lawsuit Over 'S-Town'
by Eriq Gardner
MARCH 22, 2019
After the series came out, the administrator of McLemore's estate filed suit alleging violation of Alabama's right of publicity, which makes it unlawful to use the identity of a person in products, goods, merchandise, or services without consent. The lawsuit demanded that Serial Productions disgorge profits, pay compensatory damages, and be enjoined from using his likeness in the future including a ban on selling movie rights.
John B. McLemore committed suicide. The producers behind "This American Life" and "Serial" spotlighted his life and got into his sexuality and mental health issues. The judge declines to let the First Amendment stop a lawsuit from McLemore's heirs from moving forward. Serial Productions, This American Life Public Benefit Corporation, and journalist Brian Reed must face a lawsuit for allegedly violating a dead man's likeness in S-Town, the controversial but acclaimed podcast that has been downloaded more than 80 million times. An Alabama judge's rejection of a dismissal motion on Friday is almost certain to prompt concern among media lawyers.
S-Town became one of the most popular podcasts ever produced after an Alabama man named John B. McLemore emailed the staff of This American Life and told them about a suspected murder in his hometown. Reed exchanged communications with McLemore and then traveled to Alabama to investigate the murder. Reed turned up nothing about the murder, and he subsequently had a falling out with McLemore. Then, shockingly, McLemore committed suicide.
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