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Will 'Borat' Dupes be Able to Sue Filmmakers?

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Will 'Borat' Dupes be Able to Sue Filmmakers?

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Will 'Borat' Dupes be Able to Sue Filmmakers?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie opens next week. It's already getting a lot of attention. It's called Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This is a mock documentary in which Sacha plays a crude anti-Semitic reporter from Kazakhstan who comes to the United States.

(Soundbite of movie, “Borat”)

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN (Actor): (As Borat Sagdiyev) Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have a problem too: economic, social, and Jew. This why ministry of information have decide to send me to U.S. and A, greatest country in the world, to learn the lessons for Kazakhstan.

CHADWICK: So to make this movie, Sacha, playing Borat, has interviewed and often embarrassed a lot of real people. And now some of these people - real people who became unsuspecting stars in this movie - have come forward to say they don't like it. They got duped.

Many say they never read the fine print on the release forms that they signed. And that got the explainer team at the online magazine Slate wondering what kind of releases are these.

Here's Slate's Andy Bowers with the answer.

Mr. ANDY BOWERS (Slate magazine): They were extra long releases. Moviemakers typically get releases from everyone who appears on camera and can be identified in the finished film. A standard consent agreement has a couple of components.

First, the signer agrees to let the producers use his image and voice in any way they see fit. Second, he waives the right to make a claim for defamation, invasion of privacy or infringement of his rights of publicity. Documentaries and news shows can use pictures however they want, as long as they relate to a genuine news story.

As a general rule, narrative films have a little less leeway. That's why they tend to get releases from everyone who goes on camera.

Participants in the Borat movie, like this humor coach trying to Borat a joke, were told they would be in a documentary-style film.

(Soundbite of movie, “Borat”)

Unidentified Man (Humor coach): (As himself) In that joke, I would say that suit is black, not.

Mr. COHEN: Uh, this suit is not black.

Unidentified Man: No, no. Not has to be at the end.

Mr. COHEN: Ok.

Unidentified Man: Ok.

Mr. COHEN: This suit is black not.

Unidentified Man: This suite is black, pause - you know what a pause is?

Mr. COHEN: Yes. This suit is black…

Unidentified Man: Ok. I don't - I'm not…

Mr. COHEN: …not.

BOWERS: So the Borat participants were asked to sign a so-called standard consent agreement, but in addition to the usual ground, it also protects the filmmakers from charges of fraud, breach of alleged moral right, and copyright infringement. There's even a reference to the Federal Lanham Act, which covers unfair business practices that could mislead consumers.

Still, it's not clear if it precludes all legal action. A participant might claim that he was tricked into signing the contract under false pretenses. On the other hand, a claimant would have a tough time proving his case. Everyone that Borat interviews, knows he's filmed for a movie and no one tells them to say embarrassing things.

CHADWICK: Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor. That explainer was compiled by Daniel Engber and you can read the entire release form at Slate.com.

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