The Springfield Mafia has found itself at the center of a lot of questionable enterprises: Murdering Principal Skinner (though it turns out he was just trapped in his garage under a pile of newspapers for a week), forcibly ousting Marge's competition when she opened a pretzel business, and selling rat milk to Springfield Elementary.
Now, though, "Louie," one of the henchmen -- excuse me, members -- of Springfield's Legitimate Businessman's Social Club, is at the center of a real-world legal battle that has little to do with the perfect Manhattan.
Frank Sivero is an actor who played mobster Frankie Carbone in the film "Goodfellas." He claims that the "Simpsons" character Louie, a member of Springfield's mafia, is based on him as he appeared in "Goodfellas." Yesterday, Sivero filed a lawsuit asking for $250 million from Fox for misappropriation of likeness, infringement of the right of publicity, misappropriation of ideas, and interference with prospective economic advantage.
When you look at Louie and at Sivero's character in "Goodfellas," they do seem to have a lot in common. But appearances are about where it ends. According to the lawsuit, Dan Castellaneta, the actor who voices Louie, based the voice on Joe Pesci's performance in "Goodfellas," not Sivero's. And, notably, the "Goodfellas" character was himself based on a real person, Angelo Sepe, a member of the infamous Lucchese crime family.
Is There a Claim Here?
Sivero's biggest problem is that he sat on this case for 23 years. In California, the statute of limitations on Sivero's claims would have started running within two years of its "accrual," which is when the events happen that give rise to the claim. Here, that would arguably be when the first episode featuring Louie aired in 1991. The state supreme court has explicitly said that the clock doesn't restart every time a work is "republished," so Sivero's right to sue may have expired long ago.
It's likely, however, that the parties will argue about whether a new, original episode containing the same character is a new publication or a republication (Louie most recently appeared in an episode that aired April 27) that starts a new statute of limitations clock running.
Some of Sivero's claims seem far-fetched: He says that he lived next door to "Simpsons" producer James L. Brooks in 1989, which is probably true. But he also says that he "disclosed" the idea of his "Goodfellas" character to one or more of the defendants in 1990, leading to them basing Louie on his idea. That seems like a stretch -- especially given that John Swartzwelder, and not Brooks, is credited with writing the 1991 episode in which Louie first appeared and Sivero never claimed to know Swartzwelder.
Sivero also claims that the Louie character "diluted the value of the character [Frankie Carbone]," but that's pretty speculative. It seems more likely that "Simpsons" animators saw "Goodfellas" and based the design of Louie on one of the mobsters -- maybe Frankie Carbone. Sivero's best shot would be the infringement of the right of publicity -- but even that might be a stretch.