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Lindsay Lohan’s lawsuit against Grand Theft Auto 5 was shot down by New York state’s highest court

However, ruling says video game avatars can be considered a person’s likeness

grand theft auto 5 stop and frisk poster Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Lindsay Lohan’s lawsuit against Take-Two Interactive, regarding a parody character in Grand Theft Auto 5 that she said was an unlawful use of her likeness, has ended in New York state’s highest court. Six judges of the New York Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that rejected Lohan’s civil claim against Take-Two regarding the character “Lacey Jonas.”

Lacey Jonas is a one-off character appearing in a random event called “Escape Paparazzi” in Grand Theft Auto 5. Like Lohan, Jonas is someone notorious for a fast rise to fame who becomes a popular subject in tabloid media. Lohan brought her case against Take-Two in 2014. The publisher called it a publicity stunt.

Still, Lohan’s suit survived a motion for dismissal back in 2016 — no small feat considering her status as a pubic figure. But a New York Supreme Court judge (New York Supreme Court is actually trial-level state court) ruled against Lohan. That decision was affirmed in the state’s appellate division, and then on March 29 by the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals’ decision centers on whether Lacey Jonas constitutes a “portrait” of Lohan under New York state law. Lohan said that the game’s widely distributed promotional, box and disc art (one sample is above) was such a portrait, used without her written consent.

While the unanimous ruling (one judge of the seven-member panel did not participate) found that a video game avatar may constitute a portrait, the characterization of “Lacey Jonas” in GTA 5 were “indistinct, satirical representations of the style, look, and persona of a modern, beach-going young woman that are not reasonably identifiable as plaintiff.”

Still, the ruling is significant in that it establishes, at least in New York’s jurisdiction, that video game avatars are a likeness equivalent to photographs, films or other depictions under the law. But it likely ends Lohan’s suit against Take-Two. Theoretically, she could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but she would have to show how the ruling and the state’s privacy laws conflict with an overriding Constitutional law or precedent.

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