Artist News Legal Media

Bobby Brown lawsuit over Whitney Houston documentary dismissed

By | Published on Monday 5 August 2019

Whitney Houston

A federal court in New York last week dismissed a lawsuit being pursued against broadcasters Showtime and the BBC by Bobby Brown in relation to a 2017 Whitney Houston documentary.

The legal battle centred on the documentary ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me’, which – among many other things – featured footage of Houston’s ex-husband Brown and their late daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. Archive footage in the programme included clips from Bravo’s 2005 reality series ‘Being Bobby Brown’.

In his litigation, Brown argued that the documentary breached America’s Lanham Act by falsely implying he had in some way endorsed the programme, mainly by name-checking one of his companies in the end credits. He also claimed the broadcasters had broken state laws on privacy and breach of contract.

According to Law360, judge Colleen McMahon said that the clips of Brown and his daughter in ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me’ were “artistically relevant”, and that his argument that viewers may have inferred endorsement “are not plausible”.

The claims that privacy laws were violated didn’t stand, she reckoned, because the documentary was protected by First Amendment free speech rights. She then added: “Brown’s name, likeness, and persona were not appropriated to sell products, were not used in commercial advertisements, and did not appropriate the economic value of Brown’s performance or persona”.

As for the BBC being listed as co-defendant for their involvement in the documentary, the judge said that her court didn’t have jurisdiction over the British broadcaster, even though it operates a channel in the US via its commercial division BBC Studios.

However, on the contract law claims, McMahon said that there were sufficient ambiguities that she couldn’t dismiss that one element of the lawsuit at this stage. As those relate to state and not federal law, if Brown et al wanted to proceed with that aspect of the case, she stated, they’d need to re-file their lawsuit in the appropriate state courts.

Among other things, Brown had claimed that Bravo breached their contract with him by allowing Showtime to use the ‘Being Bobby Brown’ clips. It remains to be seen if he now decides to pursue the breach of contract claims through the state courts.