Warner Bros. prevailed April 21 in a Florida lawsuit that could have severely restricted the right of filmmakers to address historical events without the permission of the subjects or their heirs.

(The Hollywood Reporter) -- Warner Bros. prevailed April 21 in a Florida lawsuit that could have severely restricted the right of filmmakers to address historical events without the permission of the subjects or their heirs.

The case stemmed from the 2000 feature "The Perfect Storm" and the displeasure that heirs of the actual boat captain and others had with elements of the script.

With the decision, Warner Bros. has prevailed on all legal issues, most recently on whether the studio could be held liable for commercial misappropriation under Florida law. The state Supreme Court, in ruling on a question raised by this federal case, said the term "commercial purpose" does not apply to publications, including motion pictures, which "do not directly promote a product or service."

A victory by the heirs of Billy Tyne, captain on the ill-fated Andrea Gail and a central character in the movie, "would have meant that in order to do a film about any historical event you would have had to receive the permission of the individual or their heirs before you did the film," said Gregg Thomas, Warners' lead attorney in this case. "The fear of the expansion of this statute was substantial."

While the Tyne case would have affected Florida law, it could have set a precedent that would have wider impact, Thomas said. The case now most likely will be dismissed after it is referred back to the federal trial court, he added.

"If the case had gone the other way, it would have dramatically impacted the entire motion picture industry here and globally because it would have essentially said the rules in Florida are different than the rules everywhere else in the world," said Loeb & Loeb attorney Doug Mirell, who filed an amicus brief supporting the defendants on behalf of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Video Software Dealers Assn., Magazine Publishers Assn. and other publishing concerns. "Given the pervasiveness of interstate marketing and the Internet, it's practically impossible to constrict your marketing to everywhere but Florida."

"We are thrilled that the Florida Supreme Court so resoundingly affirmed the principles of free expression that were at stake in this case," the studio said in a statement. "In rejecting the plaintiffs' claims, the court upheld the rights of all artists, whether filmmakers or authors, to create works that are inspired by real events without being forced to interpret those events in a particular way."

A legal summary of the opinion appears in the April 26 issue of ELW in "The Fine Print."