Family Raging over "Perfect Storm"

Relatives of captain portrayed by George Clooney suing Warner Bros.; say studio used names without permission

By Emily Farache Aug 30, 2000 5:00 PMTags
There's a legal tempest brewing over The Perfect Storm.

The family of Andrea Gail skipper Frank William "Billy" Tyne, portrayed by George Clooney in this summer's blockbuster hit, are suing Warner Bros. Pictures saying the studio never got the relatives' permission to use his likeness, and depicted the sea-going veteran as "incompetent."

The civil lawsuit charging "unauthorized commercial misappropriation and invasion of privacy" was filed Thursday in Orlando by Tyne's ex-wife, Jodi Tyne, and his surviving children, Billie-Jo Francis and Erica, who now live in central Florida.

The family says they didn't get paid for the use of Billy's story, or for their names and images. The suit also says the movie didn't have a disclaimer saying that it is a fictionalized account of the 1991 disaster at sea.

The lawsuit also alleges Warners got permission to use the names of other real people portrayed in the movie, or changed the names to fictional ones.

It seeks unspecified royalties from the movie, which has raked in more than $173 million at the box office.

The suit also claims the movie shows Billy Tyne skippering the Andrea Gail in "an unprofessional, unseaworthy and incompetent manner," and "as having suffered a self-imposed death, abandoning his crew and any hope of survival."

"We most certainly disagree with the plaintiffs' claim that the film in any way disparaged Mr. Tyne or tarnished his memory," a Warner Bros. spokeswoman says, adding that the studio would "vigorously defend" its First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

A lawyer for the family says that the movie was a "calculated fictionalization" that went "way beyond anything appearing in [Sebastian] Junger's book" and used made-up scenarios to boost audience and profits.

"The family felt wronged, and they wanted something done," the Tyne attorney tells the Associated Press. "Fiction, as fiction, is protected speech. Fiction, masquerading as fact, is not protected."

Officials at Warner Bros., however, counter that the movie was based on a well-known historical event, and they did not believe the law required them to obtain permission from Tyne or his ex-wife or children to portray him in it.

Based on the best-selling account by Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm tells the story of the doomed sword-fishing boat Andrea Gail, which vanished in a North Atlantic storm in October 1991; Tyne and his five shipmates apparently drowned--the wreckage and their bodies were never found. Junger, who did not write the screenplay, was not sued.