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Reputation rights and the deceased

The Oscar-tipped biopic of the life of Apple svengali Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender has met widespread praise by critics. Unlike the critics, the Jobs family has not welcomed the film, claiming that it does not contain a fair or accurate representation of the man and tarnishes the reputation and memories they wish to protect.

17 November 2015

If the family attempted to prevent the release of the film, they have failed. The first amendment in the US provides enormous comfort for publishers, broadcasters, and film-makers alike. This jurisdiction, even after the Defamation Act 2013, remains a more favourable location for claimants. But what remedies could it provide for the families of the deceased in the event of reputational damage such as is said to result from the Jobs film? 

This issue was considered by Lord Justice Leveson in his inquiry into the culture, media, and ethics of the press. Margaret Watson gave powerful evidence of the need to overturn the long-held doctrine that you cannot libel the dead. Her daughter was murdered and in the publicity that followed she was falsely portrayed as a bully. Tragically the Watsons’ son was so incensed by the family’s inability to hold the publishers to account that he took his own life, leaving his parents understandably determined to highlight t...

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