Rudy Giuliani to defend Activision in Manuel Noriega lawsuit

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attends the symposium to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
Dave Kotinsky | Getty Images

Activision-Blizzard has tapped America's favorite mayor to help defend its "Call of Duty" franchise from former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.

Bracewell Giuliani will represent the company in its defense against claims by the former ruler that the videogame publisher unlawfully used his image for monetary gain. And leading the charge is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who will serve as co-council on the defense team. His first step: Filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Monday morning in the Superior Court of the State of California.

"What's astonishing is that Manuel Noriega, a notorious dictator who is in prison for the heinous crimes he committed, is upset about being portrayed as a criminal and enemy of the state in the game Call of Duty. Quite simply, it's absurd," said Giuliani in a statement. "I'm not interested in giving handouts to a convicted murderer and drug smuggler...who is demanding money from Activision...for simply exercising its right to free speech."

Noriega is seeking a share of the profits from "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" as well as damages, claiming that the use of his likeness in the game was an effort "to increase the popularity and revenue." (Noriega appeared in the title as both an in-game character and one who appeared in news clips throughout the game.)

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 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 adviser during the game's creation and provided in-game voice-acting.

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Having Giuliani, who made his reputation battling organized crime and corruption in the 1980s, leading the charge against Noriega's claims is likely to focus more media attention on the case—and the franchise, which will release its next installment in early November.

Manuel Noriega suing Activision
Manuel Noriega suing Activision

However, analysts say, the impact of the lawsuit on the stock, even if Noriega wins, is likely to be minimal, and the hiring of Giuliani shouldn't have much of an impact among investors.

"If Noriega wins, we're talking about millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions, so I don't think investors care," says Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. "The game does about $1 billion in revenue and maybe $500 million in profit. How instrumental is Noriega's likeness in selling [copies]...? Even if he wins, it's a small number."

Activision says the use of Noriega's likeness is protected by free speech, since he is a public figure. The company maintains that a Noriega victory in the suit would open the door for historical and political figures and their heirs the right to forbid their appearances in works of art, including films like Forrest Gump and television programs like Saturday Night Live.

Pachter, who also holds a law degree, says it's not quite an open-and-shut case, though.

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"I get his claim that his likeness is valuable and I totally get why he would say that was part of the value of the game, but the problem is he's a public figure," he says. "The same argument could have been made by Ed O'Bannon in the NCAA lawsuit, and O'Bannon won.... I think ATVI has a good argument, but will probably end up losing."

Activision's not the only publisher fighting a well-known figure over in-game content.

Actress Lindsay Lohan is suing 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.

—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.