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Manuel Noriega sues over ‘Call of Duty’ videogame

Former Panamanian strongman alleges his likeness was used to boost sales, seeks damages and lost wages

Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator, has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, the video game company behind the popular “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” game, for depicting him as a “kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.”

Noriega, 80, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court via his attorney, and is seeking lost profits as well as damages. In the lawsuit, he claims the company included the character “to heighten realism in its game,” which in turn led “directly into heightened sales.”

The game, released in 2012, has a character that bears Noriega’s name and resembles the former Panamanian strongman. The character assists the CIA in capturing a Nicaraguan terrorist but later betrays the agency.

In reality, Noriega’s connections with the CIA go back to the 1950s. He was eventually recruited by the agency and was on its payroll until 1988. But the U.S. grew increasingly concerned with his use of violence against his foes and Panamanian citizens during the late 1980s. In 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama, ousted Noriega from power and imprisoned him in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.

In the U.S., individuals enjoy the "right to publicity," which gives them complete control over how their images can be used for commercial purposes. However, it is unclear if that right also extends to Noriega.

His claim rests on shaky ground since he isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident, an attorney told BBC News, meaning his legal standing to bring the case against the game maker is questionable.

Activision Blizzard has been valued at $16.3 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Black Ops II” was the biggest-selling video game title of all time in the U.S. and the UK. The game brought in more than $1 billion in its first two weeks.

Activision did not respond to requests seeking comment.

The game caused a stir when it was released because it featured a character that strongly resembled former U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, who had only recently left his role as director of the CIA after news of his extramarital affair.

During the controversy, Activision said it did not pay Petraeus. The company said he “was not involved in the creation of the game,” and that players clearly understood “his character and others that are based on real-life figures are fantasy.”

Noriega spent two decades in U.S. and French prisons before being extradited to Panama in 2011, where he is serving a jail sentence in Renacer (Rebirth) prison for crimes committed during his reign.

He is just the latest person to sue a game maker over his likeness appearing on screen.

Musician Gwen Stefani sued Activision over a likeness of her in the game “Band Hero.” Actress Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit against Take-Two Interactive, the publisher of the popular “Grand Theft Auto V” title, over the use of her likeness without permission. A group of college athletes sued Electronic Arts and reached a $40 million settlement over the use of their likenesses in various NCAA-branded games.

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