Heller’s ‘Compton’ Suit Survives

A federal judge in Los Angeles isn’t impressed by Jerry Heller’s claims of defamation by last year’s “Straight Outta Compton” film. Claims he was defamed by being portrayed as a “bad guy,” or accused of stealing money, inducing clients to make bad deals or even that he sometimes indulged in lobster for lunch, were dismissed.
Former agent and Ruthless Records founder Jerry Heller (R) is portrayed in “Straight Outta Compton” by actor Paul Giamatti. The movie, about the rise of N.W.A. – which Heller guided to stardom – was reportedly made without his input.

But discourage a client from hiring a lawyer? Heller’s defamation suit against NBCUniversal, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and others lives on, thanks to a portrayal that deals with entertainment lawyers.

“The Court agrees with Defendants that virtually all implications Plaintiff draws from the Film are not actionable,” wrote U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald. “But one implication is actionable. The Film arguably portrays Plaintiff as an exploitative record label manager who attempted to take advantage of an unsophisticated artist by discouraging him from retaining an attorney during contract negotiations.

“An average viewer of the Film could interpret that depiction as defamatory.”

Judge Fitzgerald said there’s nothing to suggest the scene in which Heller, portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film, attempts to discourage N.W.A from consulting attorneys is remotely true.

But in order for Heller to win his defamation case on that single actionable example, the former agent and label exec will still need to prove the scene was written with actual “malice aforethought,” as the lawyers like to say.