Reality television is currently invading our living rooms with weak storylines and what can only be considered pseudo-acting. The degree of “reality” portrayed by characters on these shows is debatable, as there are often storylines and substantial compensation to the faux-actors. Sometimes, however, producers find free walk-on entertainment.
Viacom, a media conglomerate that owns MTV, Paramount, and many other households names, has recently found itself in several legal battles concerning modern media. Just last year, Viacom lost a copyright lawsuit with Google over Youtube’s video-sharing website. On the reality TV front, whether it be “Girls Gone Wild” or “The Jersey Shore”, more and more individuals are finding themselves negatively portrayed in thousands of households and on the internet. Instead of maintaining their integrity and not putting themselves in compromising positions on camera to begin with… they’re taking Viacom to court.
Of course reality show producers foresaw this and are all saying the same thing. But they signed waivers!
Yes. For the “Girls Gone Wild” complainants, these waivers (and other proof of age and consent such as driver’s licenses) absolved the show’s creators from liability in most lawsuits. The show couldn’t win them all, though, and were recently hit with a $3 million dollar default judgment for defamation which will likely be appealed.
Now, Viacom is hot water again, facing a $5 million dollar lawsuit by a woman citing invasion of privacy and several other complaints after she appeared on MTV’s show “The Real World: Washington, D.C.” Golzar Amirmotazedi claims that her disparaging 15 minutes of fame, including erratic behavior, sexual solicitation and eventually being kicked out of the house for bizarre antics, has caused her severe emotional distress and affected her ability to sustain a living. Though she signed a waiver to appear on the show before entering MTV’s castmates’ house, she claims that the waiver is void due to her state of intoxication at the time.
Diminished capacity to form a contract is not looked upon favorably by the courts; generally if the decision to become intoxicated was the Defendant’s will, their defense is nullified. Ms. Amirmotazedi‘s claim is that she did not become intoxicated voluntarily and, in this drunken state, lacked the capacity to consent due to an inability to comprehend the waiver’s contents. As much of this fateful night was filmed, it’s likely that the court will view recorded evidence to determine if Ms. Amirmotazedi was truly incapable of entering into a contract.
As more and more television centers around “real” people and events, the expectation of privacy in public is diminished for all people crossing paths with reality show contestants. This becomes particularly apparent when random individuals willingly interact with these television show contestants, a decision that more and more people are regretting in the morning. Are these waivers enough to insulate media producers from liability? Should people be responsible for their decision to embarrass themselves on camera, sober or otherwise?