When Truth Meets Fiction, Lawyers Intervene A Washington, D.C., theater is canceling its production of the play Imagining Madoff after objections from human rights activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The play revolves around a fictional meeting between the convicted Ponzi schemer and Wiesel. Wiesel wrote a letter to the playwright, calling her work obscene and defamatory, and saying he would have his lawyer stop the production. Robert Siegel talks to lawyer and Columbia Law School lecturer Richard Lehv about the legal basis for Wiesel's objection, and what rights a living person has when they are fictionalized.
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When Truth Meets Fiction, Lawyers Intervene

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When Truth Meets Fiction, Lawyers Intervene

When Truth Meets Fiction, Lawyers Intervene

When Truth Meets Fiction, Lawyers Intervene

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A Washington, D.C., theater is canceling its production of the play Imagining Madoff after objections from human rights activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The play revolves around a fictional meeting between the convicted Ponzi schemer and Wiesel. Wiesel wrote a letter to the playwright, calling her work obscene and defamatory, and saying he would have his lawyer stop the production. Robert Siegel talks to lawyer and Columbia Law School lecturer Richard Lehv about the legal basis for Wiesel's objection, and what rights a living person has when they are fictionalized.

M: All of which led us to wonder, would Mr. Wiesel have had a case? Are living individuals protected from fictional depictions of them in which they say things that they never in fact did say? Well, Richard Lehv is a lawyer in New York, who specializes in intellectual property rights and lectures in that field at Columbia University Law School. Welcome to the program.

RICHARD LEHV: Nice to be here.

: And what do you think, if Mr. Wiesel had brought suit to try to enjoin the theater from staging the play, would he have stood a good chance in court?

LEHV: So here we don't know if there are any false statements about Elie Wiesel, but we do know that this depicts a conversation that never occurred.

: I assume that if I were an editorial cartoonist and I'd drawn a cartoon of Bernard Madoff and Elie Wiesel having a conversation, you couldn't stop me from doing that.

LEHV: My donors, who lost a lot of money, may think, hey, you never told us you were friends with Bernie Madoff. You never told us you were having these meetings with him, and that arguably could damage his reputation.

: In this case, ultimately Mr. Wiesel's letter was taken very seriously, so the response was a personal one to him in deference to his wishes. You're saying if this had been litigated down the line, very unlikely that he would have prevailed.

LEHV: And a lot of people thought she would have to lose that case. But believe it or not, she ultimately won. So you never know. And even if they don't win, the plaintiffs, if they want to stick with it, they can carry on the litigation for many years, and litigation can be very expensive and time-consuming. So sometimes it's a judgment call to just say, look, we'll just change the play or withdraw it rather than go through very expensive litigation, even if it's a very small chance that we'll lose.

: Well, Mr. Lehv, thanks for the consult.

LEHV: You're quite welcome. My pleasure to be here.

: The play, "Imagining Madoff," will be performed at another theater this summer at Stageworks Hudson in Hudson, New York. The character, the one originally called Elie Wiesel, has been renamed, for that production, Solomon Galkin.

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