On 18 January, Head of Media Disputes Emily Cox spoke to BBC Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams about the growing public appetite for biopics and the legal recourse available to famous individuals who are depicted in media.

The interview is available to listen back to in full until 17 February 2023.


Do biopics need to be accurate?

Emily notes in the interview that despite the term “life rights” being widely used, individuals do not have an exclusive right to control how their life is depicted in media. When a depiction could damage the subject’s reputation, they may be able to bring a defamation claim, but each instance will depend on how the movie or TV show is being characterised.

Recent hits The Crown and Blonde self-describe as fiction and do not claim to be documentaries, but this is not a total solution for media companies to avoid legal action: Georgian chess Grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili sued Netflix for $5 million in response to a fictional chess commentator’s line in the series finale of fictional drama The Queen’s Gambit.

One of the most controversial recent biopics has been another Netflix production, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Emily explains that it is up to the producers of such works to treat the subject matter sensitively as there is no route to bringing a legal claim because of violent or traumatic events being sensationalised.


What options do high-profile individuals have?

  • An individual may consider bringing a defamation claim if a television show, film or book makes false or injurious claims about them and the person or organisation that has produced it does not seek the individual’s consent before release.
  • A misuse of private information claim may be possible if a piece of media includes information that is factually correct, but not in the public domain.
  • Gaining the intellectual property (IP) rights over your name or something associated with you by applying for a trademark can be very useful. Anyone wanting to then use that trademark in commercially produced content would have to apply for a license to do so.

The flurry of attention around Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex’s Spare shows that the public’s hunger for dramatic life stories is stronger than ever, but third parties looking to profit from that may need to tread carefully.

For more information on life rights and biopics, read our earlier article on this complex and controversial subject.



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