Thanks to carefully worded release forms, it is highly unlikely Sacha Baron Cohen will ever be successfully sued in relation to his pranks.
Sacha Baron Cohen has a long list of pranks thanks to his varied movies and series that involve the general public. In addition, he also has a growing list of people who would like to sue him thanks to the aforementioned pranks. But, how worthwhile is it to pursue a lawsuit with the comedian?
According to the New York Times, you can attempt to sue Sacha Baron Cohen all you like. However, it is very unlikely you will be successful in your pursuit.
The most recent person looking into a lawsuit against Cohen is anti-terrorism expert and ardent gun rights activist, Daniel Roberts. Among other things during a stint on Cohen’s Showtime series, Who Is America?, Roberts bit down on an adult toy. At the time, Roberts thought he was filming a training video.
Now, as a result of the prank, Daniel Roberts is “exploring every avenue” in relation to legal proceedings against Sacha Baron Cohen. Jason Spencer, a state lawmaker in Georgia, and Roy Moore, a former Alabama Senate candidate, have also suggested in the past that they were actively seeking legal advice against the comedian.
And, prior to his current show, Cohen has been sued in relation to the previous series, Da Ali G Show, as well as the movies Borat and Bruno.
However, as the New York Times points out, these people have likely signed release statements prior to being filmed. As a result of this, it is highly unlikely that their pursuit of legal counsel will result in actual lawsuits against Cohen. And, when it has, Cohen has rarely been sued successfully and this is likely directly because of the indemnity release form.
Sacha Baron Cohen, like many performers who engage the general public in their acts, usually make the participants sign releases prior to filming them. These legal forms act as an indemnity that prevents legal claims from being filed against them.
However, the wording in the release is usually “purposely vague.” Domenic Romano, who is an entertainment lawyer, explained the basis of these release forms.
“These releases basically solicit the consent of the participant and say, ‘Look, no inconsistent oral statement is going to be considered here. This is the entire agreement in this release. You’ve entered into it voluntarily. You’ve had an opportunity to review it with counsel.’”
Currently, Daniel Roberts can’t remember if he signed a release prior to filming his segment on Who Is America? However, it is known that Cohen has requested release forms be signed by previous participants in his shenanigans.
For example, a previous lawsuit between Cohen and Richelle Olsen, who participated in his movie Bruno, showed the details of the “Standard Location Agreement” that she signed. As a result of the wording in this agreement, her lawsuit was thrown out.
In addition to the indemnity contracts, public figures also have to go above and beyond to prove malicious intent or defamation in relation to pranks such as those inflicted by Sacha Baron Cohen thanks to SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statutes. According to the New York Times, “these laws exist to make it easier to dismiss legal claims filed in free speech cases that concern topics the public might be interested in.” So, in relation to Cohen’s series, Who Is America?, this statute would help protect his freedom of speech in relation to these public figures.
So, if you were considering suing Sacha Baron Cohen, you might want to check out any release forms he may have made you sign before you consider legal avenues.
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