Netflix Settles ‘Queen’s Gambit’ Defamation Brought by Georgia Chess Grandmaster

Netflix has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a Georgian chess player who claimed he was defamed in an episode of “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Nona Gaprindashvili claimed her achievements were downplayed when a chess announcer on the Netflix series wrongly claimed she had “never faced men”. In fact, Gaprindashvili had faced 59 male competitors by 1968, the year the streak took place.

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Netflix had tried to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the show’s creators had a broad license under the First Amendment. But in January, a federal judge rejected that argument, holding that fictional works are not immune from lawsuits if they defame real people.

Netflix appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on Tuesday the case was dismissed.

“The parties are satisfied that the matter has been resolved,” said lawyer Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, who represented Gaprindashvili.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. A Netflix spokesperson also said: “We are pleased that the matter has been resolved.”

“The Queen’s Gambit” stars Beth Harmon, a fictional American who becomes an international chess champion. In the final episode, Harmon defeats a male competitor in a tournament in Moscow. An announcer explains that her opponent underestimated her. “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her gender. And even this is not unique to Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and she’s never faced men.”

Gaprindashvili, now 81, claimed the report was “grossly sexist and derogatory”.

Netflix argued that the report was meant to acknowledge Gaprindashvili, not disparage her. The series used two chess experts in an effort to get the details right.

The streamer also relied on a 2018 decision in the California Court of Appeals involving the FX show “Feud.” In that case, Olivia de Havilland claimed she had been misrepresented as a “vulgar gossip”. The appeals court sided with FX, finding that the creators have a First Amendment right to interpret the story and that the actual subjects have no veto over how they are portrayed.

In the Gaprindashvili case, however, US District Judge Virginia Phillips found that this does not mean creators have an unlimited right to defame people.

“Netflix cites, and the Court is not aware of, any cases precluding defamation claims for the depiction of real persons in otherwise fictional works,” the judge wrote. “The fact that the Series was a work of fiction does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of the defamation are different.”

The settlement means the 9th Circuit won’t weigh in — at least for now — on where the line should be drawn when real people are depicted in fictional works.

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