legal eagles - libel question?

I was watching the new release of Picket fences and there is a plot line involving the “Contrition Sisters” a one hit wonder group from the sixties. They are shown performing only one song “Beechwood 4-5789” which was a hit single for the real-life Marvelettes. The implicat ion is that this was their big hit. It later turns out that both sisters engage in prostitution.

Are they libeling the Marvelettes with this line (assuming that there has been no compensation to ok it?) Has any other tort been committed?

There is no way they would be able to (legally) perform the song without paying royalties and/or getting permission. The producer’s legal department would not allow that to happen.

Do people reasonably believe that the show Picket Fences is real, or that it is based on real facts? Are people going to reasonably confuse the fictional musicians in the show with the real people? If not, then the story line wasn’t about the Marvellettes, and I would say there is no slander.

Libel, BTW, is written slander.

(this site gives a pretty good overview of the tort of slander).

No. Libel is defamation in a fixed form (including radio or television broadcasts, which are not written). Slander is defamation in a transitory form, something that doesn’t have an enduring form that can be seen or heard repeatedly by many people. A TV show is almost always libel, not slander.

And anyway, the distinction between libel and slander is rarely of importance these days. Better just to refer to it as defamation.

Elements of defamation (under U.S. law):

(1) a false statement, which would tend to be believed, that tends to cause harm to the reputation of an identifiable person
(2) that is published (i.e., accessible to others)
(3) which you knew was false

The most obvious defense to a defamation claim here is that the Marvelettes were not identified as the persons who became prostitutes; the characters were fictional. The Marvelettes would then have to show that anyone viewing the Picket Fences would tend to believe that they were talking about the Marvelettes and that the show intended this to be the case.

Just because they have secured the proper license in order to avoid a claim of copyright infringement doesn’t mean they are not subject to a claim of defamation.

I concede your point; thanks for the clarification. Too much clutter in my brain to really remember the nuances of my 1st Amendment class.