Does Iran have a legal case against ‘Argo’?
On Tuesday, the Iranian press reported that the country is seriously considering a lawsuit against the makers of Argo over the film’s unrealistic and negative portrayal of Iranians. According to AP: Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where ...
Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where to file the lawsuit. She is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
This isn’t the first time the Iranian government has complained about the film’s portrayal of the Iranian people during the 1979 hostage crisis. In February, the government even organized a conference to highlight the anti-Iranian ideology behind Ben Affleck’s film and other movies. The lawsuit was discussed on Monday during yet another conference in Tehran for Iranian cultural officials and movie critics entitled "The Hoax of Hollywood."
While the details of how (and if) Iran will go about suing Hollywood have yet to be released, one can’t help but wonder: Does Iran actually have a case?
The short answer? Not really. "The threshold for a defamation suit in this context is pretty steep," Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told FP. To prove defamation, you have to not only establish that what is presented as fact is actually false (a difficult task when dealing with a partially fictionalized movie), but also that the plaintiff’s reputation was injured, causing financial damages. "I’m not sure how the current Iranian regime would go about proving damages," Andrews notes. "The film is loosely based on events from 1979, not 2013. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is dead, and as a general rule of law you cannot libel the dead."
Even if Iranian officials choose to pursue a case of group libel — a controversial legal theory, typically raised in cases of racial hate speech — they would still have to prove that the regime suffered an injury to reputation and measurable damages as a result of the film.
As for where Iran could file its lawsuit, Noah Feldman, a professor of international and constitutional law at Harvard, tells FP, "The Iranianans could bring suit in any place where the film is shown, I suppose, and rely on anti-defamation laws." Still, he adds, "it seems highly unlikely to go anywhere in any credible jurisdiction."
Then again, Andrews reminds us, "it’s the easiest thing in the world to file a suit." So while Iran might have an exceedingly difficult time proving their case, that won’t necessarily stop them from giving the makers of Argo a minor headache in the process.