Netflix loses appeal to dismiss ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ defamation claim

Netflix to answer defamation claim brought by international Chess Grandmaster after a U.S Judge denies motion to dismiss it

Date: Feb 1, 2022

In September last year, trailblazing chess champion Nona Gaprindashvilli filed defamation proceedings against Netflix over its hit series The Queen’s Gambit.  Gaprindashvili accuses the streaming giant of misrepresenting “one of (her) most significant career achievements…before millions of viewers worldwide” after the critically acclaimed show falsely claimed she never played against men.

The popular fictional series follows chess prodigy Beth Harmon, who becomes an international chess champion in the 1960s. In the series final episode, a commentator compares Harmon’s achievements with that of Gaprindashvili’s but says the real-life figure “never faced men” – even though she did! Gaprindashvili’s lawyers branded the line “grossly sexist and belittling,” and untrue, as in reality she had faced 59 male competitors by 1968 – beating 28 of them simultaneously.

In response, Netflix fought to have the $5 million suit dismissed claiming “no reasonable viewer would have understood the line to convey a statement of fact” as the show was an “entirely fictional work” and that the First Amendment gave show creators broad artistic license.

But in a ruling on Thursday, a U.S. district Judge disagreed. She held that works of fiction are not immune from defamation suits if they disparage real people. She added “the fact that the series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present”.

Netflix will have to consider their next move carefully.  They are in “check” for now, but who will ultimately call “checkmate”?! 

Editorial prepared by Katie Major, Solicitor, Litigation @ Mills Selig

Katie Major, Solicitor, Litigation
Katie Major has extensive experience in Litigation and Dispute Resolution, advising clients on a range of high value commercial disputes – including partnership and shareholder disputes, professional negligence, property litigation, judicial review, and debt recovery.

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