By Bill Finley
Retired race-caller Dave Johnson has filed suit against streaming giant Netflix and some of its subsidiaries, alleging his voice and persona were used on an episode of the popular Netflix program 'The Crown' without his permission.
Johnson is seeking compensatory and exemplary damages as well as equitable relief. The suit was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.
The allegations revolve around a show that aired on Nov. 9, 2022, which was the eighth episode of Season Five of 'The Crown'. The episode includes the storyline of how and when Queen Elizabeth II became interested in horse racing. On the show, she is shown watching races broadcast on satellite television. According to the lawsuit, the broadcast of the races includes Johnson's voice and his call of the 1995 GI Travers S. as well as other examples where Johnson's voice is used.
“Dave Johnson's actual voice, which is synonymous with horse racing in the United States at that period of time, is being used and is clearly audible and immediately recognizable,” the suit charges.
“Mr. Johnson is very proud of his body of work as the voice of American horse racing and as such has an interest in the unauthorized use of same without his permission,” said Johnson's lawyer, Drew Mollica. “His historic call of the 1995 Travers played an important role in Episode 8 of 'The Crown' during Season 5 and was used without his permission and he seeks compensation. The complaint speaks for itself.”
Johnson has been careful to protect his brand and has sued others who have used his catchphrase “And Down the Stretch They Come,” which he has trademarked, without his authorization. In all cases, whenever Johnson has prevailed in a lawsuit he has donated his compensation to a racing related charity. Beneficiaries of Johnson's donations have included New York's Backstretch Employee Service Team, Churchill Downs' Backside Learning Center and various scholarships including the University of Arizona's Racetrack Industry Program and Southern Illinois University, as well as donations he has made to benefit disabled jockeys.
According to Netflix's own numbers. 'The Crown's' “fifth season was viewed for 107.39 million hours following its premier” and Episode Eight had a production cost of approximately $13 million. According to the complaint, in 2022 Netflix Entities garnered a total revenue from its video streaming platform that amounted to approximately $31.6 billion and that “a substantial portion of that revenue is attributable to the sale, rental, and streaming success of 'The Crown', including Season Five, Episode Eight.”
“As a proximate result of All Defendants acts and/or omissions, All Defendants, individually, collectively and acting on concert, have invaded Dave Johnson's statutory right to privacy, misappropriated his persona and voice, and have profited at Dave Johnson's expense…” the lawsuit charges.
Johnson called the GI Kentucky Derby for ABC Sports from 1978 to 1980 and from 1987 to 2000. He called the GI Preakness S. and the GI Belmont S. from 1987 to 2000. He also served as the head announcer at, among others, the NYRA tracks, the Meadowlands, Santa Anita Park and Hialeah Park. He is currently the co-host of the “Down the Stretch” show on Sirius XM radio.