Remember Miss Cleo, the Jamaican-accented spokesperson for Psychic Readers Network in the late ’90s? Her estate is trying to ensure the makers of “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” remember her, and pay up.
“Vice City” features a character named Auntie Poulet, the leader of a Haitian gang. Rockstar Games, the publisher of the Grand Theft Auto game series, hired “Miss Cleo” actress Youree Harris to provide voiceovers for the character. TMZ reports that PRN, which holds the rights to Miss Cleo, is suing Rockstar and others who helped make and distribute the game for alleged infringement. The estate argues that Rockstar hired Harris “at the height of her popularity” for the character, “to capitalize on the notoriety and fame of Miss Cleo in order to create her clone.” They offer the character’s Jamaican accent as evidence, even though Auntie Poulet is Haitian.
Although “Vice City” was originally released in 2002 and re-released for Fire OS in 2013, PRN argues that prior to Harris’ death in 2016, the company had no knowledge of the infringement. “Specifically,” the suit states, “it came to Plaintiff’s attention in July 2016 that Defendants and/or their agents had produced and distributed the infringing videogame without Plaintiff’s knowledge or authorization. This was the first time that Plaintiff learned of Ms. Harris’s involvement in ‘Vice City.’”
Attorney Brandon J. Huffman of Odin Law and Media tells Mashable that the timing of the suit is a challenge for PRN. Rockstar could refute PRN’s alleged ignorance of Harris’s involvement by highlighting the filing itself, which describes the staying power and global presence of “Vice City.”
Huffman goes on to say that the suit was filed in the Eleventh Circuit, which would also be a hurdle for PRN to clear. “Different courts have come out [in] different ways when the statute of limitations for copyright infringement … stops running,” Huffman says. “In the Eleventh Circuit, where the lawsuit has been filed, it starts to run on the last infringing act. So here the fact that [PRN] didn’t discover it [until recently] — it seems like they’re making a big deal out of that. But it doesn’t really matter in the Eleventh Circuit that they didn’t discover it until 2016.”
Rockstar could mount a “parody defense,” arguing that Auntie Poulet’s appearance in “Vice City” falls squarely in fair use parody territory. But Huffman says even that’s a risky tack to take. “A lot of indie developers don’t get this, actually. A parody defense basically says, ‘Yes, it’s copyright infringement but the 1st Amendment protects it because it’s parody,’” he says.
A spokesperson for Rockstar told TMZ, “These claims are entirely meritless and completely ridiculous. We will vigorously defend ourselves with regard to this matter.”
Check out videos of Miss Cleo and Auntie Poulet below.