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Docudramas & Defamation: How to Weigh Risk and Creative Freedom Where Fact Meets Fiction

  • November 16, 2022
  • 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
  • Virtual [Zoom]


The “docudrama”—a dramatized film or television program inspired by real people and events—has seen a renaissance in recent years. So has litigation over the portrayal of individuals who claim to be falsely depicted in these expressive works. For example, in just the past decade, litigation has been brought over streaming shows such as The Queen’s Gambit, Inventing Anna, Feud: Bette and Joan, and Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story, and threatened over shows like HBO’s Winning Time. Three media attorneys with a wealth of experience will explain how they advise filmmakers, networks, and streamers about risks relating to docudramas, bearing in mind defamation standards like “actual malice,” and whether and to what extent disclaimers can help insulate producers and distributors from potential claims.

Stephanie Abrutyn, SVP, Legal and Business Affairs and General Counsel of Grid, has over 25 years of experience at a number of leading media companies.  Immediately prior to joining Grid, Stephanie served as SVP and Chief Counsel, Litigation and Public Policy at WarnerMedia, where she led the team responsible for overseeing and managing litigation for all of WarnerMedia’s businesses and brands including HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros., and oversaw the WarnerMedia domestic public policy group. Stephanie also teaches media law and is a frequent speaker and author on First Amendment and media law issues.

Matt Schafer is Vice President, Assistant General Counsel, Litigation for Paramount Global. He handles content litigation across Paramount subsidiaries like CBS News, Showtime, and Simon & Schuster, with a focus on defamation, copyright, and invasion of privacy claims and subpoenas for newsgathering material. Matt also regularly publishes scholarship on the history of freedom of speech and of the press in the United States. His articles have been published by or are forthcoming in Penn State University Law Review, Buffalo Law Review, Louisiana Law Review, the Federal Communications Law Journal, and Georgetown’s Journal of National Security Law & Policy.  Previously, he was newsroom counsel at BuzzFeed News.

Rachel Strom is a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, where she concentrates her practice on media law. She represents media companies in high-stakes defamation, invasion of privacy and copyright matters. Rachel also provides counseling and pre-publication advice to television shows, documentaries, podcasts, online publications, newspapers, and magazines.

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