Monday, May 6, 2013

Can Porco Execute a Prior Restraint?


The story of a former student at the University of Rochester gruesomely murdering his father before unsuccessfully attempting to do the same to his mother sounds like a strong basis for a made-for-television drama. Realistically it sounds like something out of one of the murder mystery shows such as CSI. But for Christopher Porco, this story is unfortunately a real one. In fact, the story is based on the alleged actions of Porco who is currently serving a prison sentence for 46 years to life in the Danemora prison. 
(Christopher Porco, Photo Courtesy of: www.timesunion.com)
The Lifetime television network picked up Porco’s story and made it into a movie titled “Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story” and it was set to air on March 23. That is until Porco successfully filed an injunction with the New York state Supreme Court on Tuesday March 19 citing that Lifetime needed Porco’s permission to use his name because the movie depicts a fictionalized telling of the crime and that it infringed upon his privacy. Judge Robert Muller issued a temporary injunction on the movie at least until a later hearing in April.
Lifetime acted quickly by subsequently asking the New York state Appellate Division to lift the injunction that was preventing the movie from being aired or promoted by the network. Lifetime spokesman Les Eisner made it clear that the issue was heavily an infringement on a First Amendment right by the makers of the film.
“It’s a sad day when a convicted murderer who has exhausted all of his appeals can convince any court to stop people from exercising their First Amendment right to talk about his crime.” (First Amendment Center, “Lifetime TV movie showing up to court,” March 21, 2013.)
According to the First Amendment Center, the Lifetime network said that it had spent more than two million dollars getting the rights to tell the story of Porco’s crime.
The appellate court overturned Muller’s decision, allowing the movie to be aired on time. Michael Grygiel, who represented Lifetime in the appeal, said Porco’s argument of violated privacy doesn’t work in this case.
"I'm very pleased the appellate court recognized the fundamental First Amendment implications and that Mr. Porco's claim that his right to privacy would be violated, was unfounded." (NBCNews.com, “Ban on Lifetime's 'Romeo Killer' movie lifted by New York court,” March 22, 2013.)
To get into the center of this issue, the First Amendment rights of Lifetime Television must be examined. The makers of this movie have a Constitutional right to express their opinion and idea of this crime through the movie, and the network claims that it spent millions of dollars to legally obtain the rights to tell this story. Additionally the fact that Porco was convicted of this crime and is currently serving a prison sentence from the conviction, allows the network to use his name and the story as long as the movie doesn’t “depart from the known facts and is defamatory". (USAToday.com, “Drew Peterson tries to stop movie about him,” July 14, 2011.). Moreover, as presented in the Drew Peterson case in 2011 and according to David Heller of the Media Law Resource Center, Peterson couldn't “have a claim over an accurate portrayal of real life events”. This helps show how in the Porco case, the network did not need permission to use Porco’s name because the crime he committed is in itself public information as is the conviction that he is guilty of the crime. The root of the problem was that Judge Muller violated the First Amendment rights of the filmmakers to provide their depiction of a crime that was committed by Christopher Porco. The film aired on the Lifetime Network as scheduled on March 23.

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