As picked up by The Hollywood Reporter, HBO is facing a “huge” defamation lawsuit from sporting equipment maker Mitre Sports over a 2008 episode of Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel that claimed the company used child labor to make soccer balls. The segment was titled “Children Of Industry,” and it featured kids in India making balls for Mitre and other companies with Gumbel saying, “governments, manufacturers, and retailers all say they abhor the practice of child labor. Yet, clearly they are all letting it happen.” Unsurprisingly, Mitre took offense to that and claimed that the entire segment was a “hoax,” and everything in it was “fabricated” or “dramatized.”
Mitre (which, to be fair, would certainly have no reason to lie about this), says it actually tracked down the children who were involved, and they supposedly admitted that the show’s producers paid them off to pretend they were hired to make soccer balls. HBO even admits that there were problems with the segment, but says it was “substantially true” and that it has evidence “supporting the notion that child labor is sometimes used in the manufacture of Mitre-branded products.” It takes some interesting/complicated twists from there—as all the best lawsuits do—with a judge deciding that Mitre isn’t famous enough to be a “public figure,” so it doesn’t need to prove that HBO’s report showed “actual malice” toward the company (making the defamation argument easier to prove). According to Mitre, though, HBO and its overlords at Time Warner have been stealthily inserting Mitre products into movies and TV shows in order to increase awareness of the brand and make it harder to argue that it’s not a “public figure,” which is hilariously shady if true.
The case will go to trial on April 13, and THR says HBO could have to pay Mitre “tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars” if it loses. In other words, future seasons of Game Of Thrones might feature a lot fewer dragons, castles, ice zombies, costumes, and sets that aren’t just an empty field.