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CBS appeals defamation ruling in CSI lawsuit

A dispute over the plotline in a television drama went before an appellate court earlier this week. A husband and wife filed a defamation of character lawsuit against the CBS television network, a production company and a screenwriter over the storyline in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

The husband and wife bringing the defamation lawsuit reportedly are real estate brokers. They claim that the screenwriter became disgruntled after a real estate transaction went bad. In February 2009, the CBS drama ran an episode with a storyline related to the subprime mortgage crisis. The episode included a husband and wife real estate broker team who the real-life couple claims used the couple's names and likenesses and portrayed the couple as depraved.

The episode featured a couple named Scott and Melinda Tucker. The characters reportedly engaged in sexual bondage, pornography, excessive drinking and domestic discord. The real-life couple is also named Scott and Melinda, but has a different last name.

The real-life couple says that after the CSI episode aired, their real names appeared on the internet with negative written descriptions of the couple that they claim are tied to the CSI episode. The real-life couple says their reputations were damaged from the television show. The couple says the network was negligent in not ensuring the characters on the episode were not similar to a real life couple.

The network argues that the sub-prime mortgage crisis is a topic of interest deserving First Amendment protections. The trial court disagreed in a November, 2009, ruling that allowed the defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit to go forward to trial. That ruling is now the issue of the current appeal.

Source: Los Angeles Daily News, "CBS attorney to appellate court: Dismiss defamation suit against network," 14 Feb 2011

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