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Manuel Noriega sues 'Call of Duty' game makers

Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator who has spent the better part of the past 25 years in prison, is suing Activision Blizzard for using his name and image in its "Call of Duty" video game series.

Manuel Noriega speaks in 1988 during the presentation of colors to the San Miguel Arcangel de San Miguelito volunteer battalion in Panama City, Panama.
Angel Murillo | AFP | Getty Images
Manuel Noriega speaks in 1988 during the presentation of colors to the San Miguel Arcangel de San Miguelito volunteer battalion in Panama City, Panama.

Noriega appeared in "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" as both an in-game character and one who appeared in news clips throughout the game. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the former ruler accused the publisher of unlawfully using his image for monetary gain.

"In an effort to increase the popularity and revenue generated by Black Ops II, defendants used, without authorization or consent, the image and likeness of plaintiff," the suit claims, according to Courthouse News Service.

"Defendants' use of plaintiff's image and likeness caused damage to plaintiff. Plaintiff was portrayed as an antagonist and portrayed as the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes, creating the false impression that defendants are authorized to use plaintiff's image and likeness. This caused plaintiffs to receive profits they would not have otherwise received."

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Noriega is seeking a share of the game's profits as well as damages. Activision did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Noriega's claim that the use of his likeness was an effort "to increase the popularity and revenue" of the game might be a hard one to prove, though. The "Call of Duty" series has been the industry's top franchise since 2007, with each installment earning over $1 billion.

"Black Ops II," released in 2012, topped $1 billion in sales in just two weeks upon its release. The game raised some eyebrows at the time for its fictional casting of of former CIA director David Petraeus as the Secretary of Defense in 2025. (Development of the game was completed long before the sex scandal surrounding Petraeus broke.) The game also featured Former Lt. Col. Oliver North, who was an advisor during the game's creation and provided in-game voice-acting.

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The character that bears Noriega's name and likeness in "Black Ops II" assists the CIA, but later betrays them. In real life, Noriega did work as a CIA informant, but the agency broke ties with him. He was deposed by a U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

After his 1992 conviction for drug dealing, racketeering and money laundering, he served 15 years and was then extradited to France in 2007, where he had been convicted in absentia of murder and money laundering. Four years later, French officials sent him to Panama to serve a 20-year sentence. He currently remains in jail there.

Noriega's suit comes just two weeks after actress Lindsay Lohan sued Take-Two Interactive Software and Rockstar Games for allegedly using her image without permission in "Grand Theft Auto V." Karen Gravano, daughter of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano and former star of the VH1 reality series "Mob Wives," is also suing Rockstar and Take-Two for allegedly using her image and life story.

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—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC

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