Social Media Product Placement vs Defamation Could Have Been Zuckerberg's Legal Remedy

In the year that led up to the production of the movie 'The Social Network,' it was reported widely that Zuckerberg was outraged that an unauthorized portrayal of his life was making its way to the big screen. However, if he was so inclined, defamation of character suits are difficult cases to win in a court of law. Unless 'malice' is shown as intent, most of these suits never succeed. Product placement on the other is another story entirely.

While the popular TV drama 'The Good Wife' isn't normally known for ripping stories from the headlines, a la 'Law & Order,' February 15th's episode is the second time the show has tapped into current events that frame today's cultural zeitgeist. While the last plot-line to do this was a nod to addicted celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, February 15th's episode hit on the Facebook-story that's sold books, a graphic novel and an award-winning movie.

As the episode titled, "Net Worth" mentions the real-life case of  Mark Zuckerberg and the movie made about the origins of Facebook, the client's characterization under the name of Patric Edelstein and his network are dead ringers for all the truth and fiction we've come to know about the billionaire wunderkind's start-up enterprise.

In the TV script, because the legal case focused on the guilt or innocence of a screen writer (a la Aaron Sorkin) and his first amendment's right, it was interesting to see how a Charles Dickensian-type of literary convention was woven into the episode. With a touch of irony that may have been lost on some - the name of Edelstein's social network - was purposely chosen.

It not only added a 'taint' to the more socially acceptable name of Facebook, it also provided an opportunity for the TV version to take a turn and deviate some from the real-life and fictional events of Facebook's origins. That is, if Mark Zuckerberg had any malice in his heart way back when- he might have chosen the route taken by Will Gardner and his law firm, Lockhart, Gardner and Bond to litigate against the producers of 'The Social Network.'

Oliver Stone said that his “Wall Street” sequel benefited “enormously” from product placement, which helped expand a tight budget without compromising the integrity of the film. However if that product placement benefitted by playing on the celebrity of a famous person, Gardner and his partner Diane Lockhart proposed there is just cause for litigation. In "Net Worth," they successfully proved that without trading off the CEO's name, the movie would have not been able to secure 23 product placements in their "Social Network-like" movie.

In the case of the real movie, some have gone so far as to say it was as much an infomercial as it was a movie. For example, perhaps subtle, but nonetheless obvious, Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg is shown in several scenes carrying around a Sony Vaio computer. This is particularly interesting since I covered the relationship between Aaron Sorkin, Mark Zuckerberg and Sony Motion Pictures. Titled, "Might Sony Be Cause For 'The Social Network' Movie To Friend Mark Zuckerberg," it appears that one of the reasons Zuckerberg may have not sued the movie producers was mainly due to Sony being one of his social network's largest advertisers.

Had Zuckerberg chosen to play hardball, there was plenty of evidence in the movie that brands invested heavily in this movie hoping to capitalize in trading off the names of "Zuckererg" and "Facebook." .

Mountain Dew appeared so often, that it prompted Dan George Keen to post this tweet after seeing the movie.

As another bit of irony, when Eduardo Saverin wanted to sell advertising space for "the Facebook" in the early years, Zuckerburg pointed out that ads for products like Mountain Dew would take away from the Facebook's "cool" factor.

North Face and The Gap also paid handsomely to have their products integrated into the movie as props.

In 'The Good Wife' episode, there is a T-shirt from the fictional movie with the lead actor’s face and the words: "Public Frienemy #1" is shown. In case you’ve forgotten, The Social Network’s tagline: “You don’t get to 500 Million Friends Without Making Some Enemies.” The TV t-shirt, according to Diane Lockhart sold for $29.95. While Sony Pictures didn't take the same route, "The Social Network" movie tees were produced by someone and can still be found on eBay for $8.88.

So what does this tell us? For one, I think there were reasons noted in this post why Zuckerberg didn't choose to sue Aaron Sorkin or the producers. But more importantly, I think it says that free expression is still alive and well in a country that believes in the importance of creative property and its right to stand along life side real-life events as a truth onto itself.  And while sometimes its difficult to handle those truths, there should be no restrictions in allowing them to be heard. After that, it's up to the individual to decide if they agree or disagree.

In the graphic novel, "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks," Zuckerberg (aka Z-Man) and Facebook (aka Facebucks) are satirized in their aggressive attempts to overtake Google (aka Gobble) and China in becoming the preeminent ruler of the Internet. When Z-Man solicits the advice of Betty White, she ends their conversation by saying she is off to star in a movie about the world's largest search engine. Since there is already rumors to this effect, what brands do you think might be lining up for product endorsements in "Google, the Movie?"

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