Woody Allen vs. American Apparel: Lawsuit Limits When Reputation is On the Line

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By David Goguen on April 16, 2009 9:43 AM

The gloves are coming off in the legal battle between director Woody Allen and clothing company American Apparel. But what's all the fighting about?  

Round One: The fillmmaker sued the Los Angeles-based clothing distributor last year, accusing the company of using his image without permission and damaging his reputation. Allen charges that American Apparel used a movie still image of him in a scene from "Annie Hall" on American Apparel billboards that appeared briefly in Los Angeles and New York City.

Round Two: American Apparel's lawyers responded to Allen's lawsuit with a barrage of discovery motions, and the director took offense to the breadth of the requests, which included what his attorneys deemed "excessive subpoenas and requests for documents," according to the New York Times.  

What is Discovery? In a civil lawsuit, discovery is a process that is used by both sides (plaintiffs and defendants) to request information from the other parties involved. This is done through interrogatories (written questions and answers), depositions (oral testimony from witnesses who are under oath, sometimes after a subpoena is issued) and requests for production (usually of documents and records relevant to a case). Traditionally, discovery is used to bring all relevant information to the table so that each side can prepare their case.

That's the idea behind discovery, but as any tort reformer will tell you, the reality is that often one side of a civil lawsuit (usually the one with deeper pockets) will deluge the other side with seemingly endless discovery requests. And that is the tactic that Allen is accusing American Apparel of following, alleging that the company adopted a "scorched earth" approach with its discovery requests, according to the New York Times.

The Next Round: American Apparel's argument is that Allen is overstating the value of his image, and the company needs to try to prove that it couldn't have damaged his reputation, because "the film director already spoiled [it] himself," according to the AP. The news service cites an American Apparel lawyer as saying that the company "will make Allen's relationship to actress Mia Farrow and her adopted daughter the focus of a trial scheduled to begin in New York City on May 18."