As far as lawsuits go, defamation cases are usually entertaining. Throw in a Hollywood backdrop, a documentarian and her manse-building subjects, and you’ve got one of the most fascinating libel lawsuits of the year – Siegel v. Greenfield.
The Siegel v. Greenfield Libel Lawsuit Background
The drama all started at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where Lauren Greenfield was debuting her documentary about the Siegels entitled “The Queen of Versailles.” Originally, the film was supposed to focus on the construction of the biggest house in America. Filming started in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis; so, instead of documenting the building of a mock “Versailles” in Orlando, Florida, Greenfield ended up making a movie about the Siegel’s alleged fall from pecuniary grace.
But David Siegel was not pleased with Greenfield’s characterization of his business’ status in the promotional material for the film, and right before the viewing, he filed a libel lawsuit. In an effort to please the Siegels, the producers of the movie scrambled to change the verbiage in question, but their efforts did not sway Siegel. In fact, according to reports, instead of withdrawing the case when the change was made, he expanded it.
The New Version of The Queen of Versailles Defamation Lawsuit
While Greenfield has nothing but nice things to say about the couple, the Siegels feel Greenfield’s film portrayed them and their business ventures in “an array of defamatory and derogatory ways.”
What are David and Jackie’s exact issues? First and foremost, Mr. Siegel insists that his company is not collapsing. “We didn’t hit rock bottom,” he explained, “we just flattened out.” The movie also allegedly made it seem like the Siegels:
- Let their dogs “relieve” themselves anywhere in their house;
- Fired the majority of their staff during filming, when in fact they were let go before filming began; and
- Had nobody working in their call-centers, when in fact the producers only chose to show one call center that was down, when another one was in full swing right next door.
David Siegel also objects to a scene in the film that he feels was shot in a way to make it seem like he was depressed over his failing business; but Siegel says he was depressed about the film crew still being in his house, not his financial dealings.
In other words, the Siegels feel that the story arc depicted in “The Queen of Versailles” is distorted and therefore defamatory.
Will The Queen of Versailles Defamation Lawsuit See The Inside Of A Courtroom? And If So, Who Will Win?
Here’s the rub: before filming began, both parties – the Siegels and Greenfield – signed a contract and agreed to use arbitration in the event that any legal differences arise. As such, there’s a strong possibility that this libel case will not make it into court. Nevertheless, it could happen. Perhaps more importantly, though, by filing the libel lawsuit, Siegel was able to broadcast his objections far and wide – which probably went a long way in repairing his professional reputation.
“The Queen of Versailles” is scheduled to hit theaters on July 20, 2012. If it turns out that the material was manipulated to paint an unfair and false image of the Siegels, there’s a chance they’ll emerge victorious in either arbitration or an actual court ruling. That being said, the prosecution will have to provide convincing evidence, as freedom of expression is serious business in the United States. Moreover, it’s often difficult to censure an artist for crafting a piece of art, which Greenfield’s attorneys will undoubtedly work into her defense in some manner.
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