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Indian LPO defends Ali G US libel claim for fraction of cost of Wall Street firms

Ali G
Ali G

Mysore-based legal process outsourcing (LPO) company SDD Global has successfully helped defend an $800,000 California Court of Appeal libel claim against Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of comedy characters Ali G and Borat.

SDD Global, which was set up and instructed by US firm SmithDehn, researched the law and drafted the briefs for Channel 4 and Cohen in the appeal against unnamed litigant "Jane Doe", who alleged that Cohen's Ali G character (pictured) had libelled the appellant during an interview with US author Gore Vidal.

SDD is understood to have quoted flat fees considerably below the US market standard to Channel 4 to fight the original case, which was dismissed  in a summary judgement in 2009, as well as the Court of Appeal case, which the court decided in the defendant's favour on 4 April.

Channel 4 controller of legal & compliance Prash Naik said in a statement that US court actions were extremely costly to run and even if successfully defended against, most costs were not recoverable.

"As so often happens in cases like this, the 'chilling effect' of the threat of substantial damages and significant legal costs, forces defendants to settle with plaintiffs who have no justifiable claim. However, combining the skills and expertise of US attorneys with US-law-trained Indian attorneys has proved to be an innovative and cost-effective way for Channel 4 to fight and win the suit."

SDD Global head of operations Sanjay Bhatia said that this proved that LPOs did not just deal in low level legal work. "All research, writing and drafting was done at SDD Global, with SmithDehn."

It is understood that US law firms can charge as much as $250,000 to file a summary motion to dismiss a complex libel claim, with fees easily exceeding $1m if the case proceeds, while the fees quoted by the Indian LPO are understood to have been much lower.

Smith Dehn partner and SDD founder Russell Smith presented the majority of the case in the California court.

"Because it was outsourced and most work was done by SDD Global –under supervision of SmithDehn– Channel 4 could save a lot on legal costs and could take decision to defend [the case]."

SDD also handled all of the US legal work in India  in the shooting of Cohen's 2006 Borat and 2009 Brüno movies, which included coordinating waivers and release forms for subjects, as well as legal research about local states' obscenity and other laws.

The LPO also successfully helped defend against a law suit that Cohen's film crew had assaulted a Bingo operator during the filming of Brüno.

In a 2004 video interview on UK's Channel 4's The Ali G Show, the titular character had conducted a comedy interview with Vidal, in which he said the appellant had "amended" her physical characteristics to no avail, similar to the US constitution.

The same appellant first sued the US TV station HBO in 2004 and 2005 for airing the segment in question each time, settling with the channel for $40,000 and $50,000 respectively.

The Court of Appeal held that it was clear the interview was a clear joke and that the first amendment to the US constitution (right to free speech) protected Cohen and Channel 4.

Mysore-based legal process outsourcing (LPO) company SDD Global has successfully defended an $800,000 California Court of Appeal libel claim against Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of comedy characters Ali G and Borat.

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