Thursday, April 23, 2009

Indian Legal Outsourcing Scores Major Hollywood Victory

A.R. Rahman conquered Hollywood, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score, in Slumdog Millionaire. Now the Indian lawyers at SDD Global Solutions in Mysore have scored their own Hollywood triumph, doing the legal research, and drafting the motion papers, to defeat a Los Angeles libel case against HBO’s “Da Ali G Show,” starring Sacha Baron Cohen of “Borat” and “Bruno” fame. It’s one thing for an Indian legal outsourcing company to draft a brief for a U.S. litigation. That’s been done several times before, by SDD Global, Atlas Legal Research, Lexadigm and others, to the credit of the outstanding Indian lawyers who did the work. But in this case, the work was victorious, and it resulted in a precedent-setting decision protecting comedy writers, comedians, and their producers and broadcasters everywhere.

In this case, the Indian lawyers at SDD Global drafted, and are credited by name in, the successful summary judgment brief (which you can access by clicking here) for dismissal of Doe v. HBO, the lawsuit filed by a woman who once knew comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and claimed that Cohen, while playing the role of the television character, “Ali G,” libeled her by name during a spoof interview with historian Gore Vidal. Suing under the legal pseudonym, “Jane Doe,” the plaintiff claimed that Cohen, as “Ali G,” falsely claimed to have had sexual relations with her. In the brief drafted entirely in India, the defense argued as follows:

"No reasonable person could have believed the statements, given that they were made by what the plaintiff now admits is a 'fictional character,' in the context of a series of absurd and unbelievable jokes, in what she admits is a 'comedy,' where the actor never steps out of his fictional role. This is confirmed by the fact that the plaintiff has no evidence that anyone believed any of the statements, much less the statement at the core of this lawsuit, namely, that the plaintiff had sex with a fictional character. As a matter of California and U.S. constitutional law, such statements are not actionable."

Today, Judge Terry Friedman of the Los Angeles Superior Court, agreed. He ruled as follows:

“The Court viewed the excerpt from the Ali G program which is the basis for Plaintiff’s action. No reasonable person could consider the statements made by Ali G on the program to be factual. To the contrary, it is obvious that the Ali G character is absurd, and all his statements are gibberish and intended as comedy. The actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, never strays from the Ali G character, who is dressed in a ridiculous outfit and speaks in the exaggerated manner of a rap artist. Ali G’s statements are similarly absurd. For example, prior to the reference to Plaintiff, while ‘interviewing’ the author Gore Vidal, Ali G refers to the Constitution of the United States as having been written on two tablets, clearly intended to confuse the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. Altogether, the program is obviously a spoof of a serious interview program. No reasonable person could think otherwise.”
The Court also adopted two other legal arguments, drafted by SDD Global, which helped seal the fate of the plaintiff’s case.

As reported earlier in this blog, this case is historic, and not only because it is one of the first “libel-in-fiction” cases in the television context. The case is important also because it is the first high-profile, U.S. media litigation in which the legal research and first drafts of the motion papers for the defense were completed entirely off-shore, by Indian attorneys at a legal outsourcing company. The lead counsel for the defense, New York-based SmithDehn LLP, supervised the work and appeared in court on behalf of the moving party, Channel Four Television Corporation, the UK’s second largest television network, which incidentally developed and produced Slumdog Millionaire, The Crying Game, Trainspotting, The Last King of Scotland, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Also present in the courtroom was Padma Shanthamurthy, SDD Global team leader, who traveled from her home in Mysore, India to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York to assist with oral arguments and depositions in the case.

Channel 4’s Prash Naik added: “US court actions are extremely costly to run, and even where a defendant wins, little if any of their costs are recoverable from the plaintiff. As so often happens in cases like this, the ‘chilling effect’ of the threat of substantial damages and significant legal costs, forces defendants to settle with plaintiffs who have no justifiable claim. However combining the skills and expertise of US attorneys with US law-trained Indian attorneys has proved to be an innovative and cost-effective way for Channel 4 to fight and win the suit.”

Sanjay Bhatia, SDD Global’s Head of Operations, emphasized that “this is a case where outsourcing created more work in the U.S., rather than less. Because our team made the defense affordable, U.S. lawyers were able to do the things in the U.S. that they do best there, such as strategizing, supervising, editing, and appearing in court. The implications of this case are huge. With legal outsourcing, baseless lawsuits can be defeated on the merits, instead of settled simply out of fear of legal fees.”