The fourth season of The Crown, The Netflix series on the life of the British royal family, has garnered some criticism in recent weeks for inaccurately reflecting the recent history of the United Kingdom and, above all, for leaving Queen Elizabeth II and the heir in a bad place to the throne, Prince Charles. The controversy has reached such a magnitude that the British Government has even asked the platform to include a message at the beginning of each episode to make it clear to the viewer that, despite being based on real events, it is nothing more than a work of fiction. Request to which Netflix has refused.
Definitely, The Crown has reopened the international debate on the limits of the calls biopics: movies and television series that recreate the trajectory of famous people. The discussion moves between those who believe that this audiovisual genre, in full expansion, should be faithful to the truth so as not to unjustly damage the image of the protagonists, and those who understand that it is totally lawful for non-contrasted data to be revealed (or directly invented), since the objective is not to inform the audience, but to entertain them. With the law in hand, who is right?
The truth is that there is no clear answer. In general, these productions, which move millions of euros a year, depend on a difficult balance of factors. One of them is the recording country. “Thus, while in the United States there is enough room for creativity, in Spain and other European states there is a fairly restrictive constitutional framework that protects the fundamental right to honor and privacy of the persons named or represented,” explains lawyer Maitane Valdecarros , responsible for the audiovisual area of Audens.
According to Santiago Ilundáin, partner at Santiago Mediano Abogados, this means that, “at least in our country, fiction is not a marque to tell what one wants.” Quite the contrary, he asserts, if a series or a film relates a real event, the script will have to be truthful and, as far as possible, have the approval of those referred to.
However, there are times when it is not feasible to obtain all the permissions of the parties involved, either because they are opposed to the story coming to light or because they do not agree with the version of events. As Mabel Klimt, an expert in entertainment law at the Elzaburu firm, clarifies, “the shield that the legal system grants to privacy and honor is not absolute.” In fact, the judges have been endorsing the legality of unauthorized creations about public figures or who have been involved in events of general interest.
A clear example of this trend is the case of Farina, the novel about drug trafficking in Galicia written by journalist Nacho Carretero, whose dissemination was provisionally stopped in March 2018 for mentioning a mayor of the area. Finally, the Madrid Court lifted the precautionary measure considering that the book narrated “events of social relevance that are widely disclosed.”
Four years earlier, in 2014, the same court dismissed the lawsuit filed by two children of the Marquis of Urquijo against the TVE production that led to the murder of their parents on the small screen by presenting them, according to them, as alleged parricides. The magistrates, on the contrary, understood that those responsible for the telefilm “limited themselves to expressing the suspicions of the police.”
Injuries and slander
For Patricia Koch, partner of Balder, it is clear that justice admits that literary and cinematographic devices are used to attract attention and maintain the dramatic tension. “What the courts do not protect is that a new reality is created in which insults and slander are spilled, no matter how famous the character is,” he clarifies.
In this sense, the sentence that two years ago condemned Telecinco to remove the miniseries from its website stands out. My gypsy and compensate Isabel Pantoja with 10,000 euros. The court determined that the creative licenses used by the biopic to represent the singer’s time in prison and her love affairs involved “an illegitimate interference with the right to privacy.”
Gossip or morbid is still one of the hooks of the audiovisual industry, which has its tricks to cover its back against future claims. “How to vary the locations, names and genders of the characters in order to make recognizability difficult, which is the first element that is analyzed in these processes”, highlights Ilundáin.
It is also very common for productions to rely on previous work, which limits to a large extent new claims from prospering. It is the case of The Crown, which is based on the play The Audience and that, likewise, it benefits from the ingrained custom of the British royal house of not taking legal action against the media.
It is very likely that these reasons have led Netflix to not include any notice and thus maintain the pulse against the Executive of Boris Johnson, who has already threatened to modify the regulation of video on demand services. Everything indicates that the legal controversy surrounding one of the series of the moment … will continue.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.