A Look At The Defamation Lawsuit Against Netflix For The Series Inventing Anna




Netflix’s series Inventing Anna became an instant hit when it was released. A setback came for Netflix, as the giant lost its bit to get a defamation lawsuit tied to the hit series, dismissed. The lawsuit brought forth by Rachel DeLoache Willams, former friend of the infamous con artist Anna Sorokin, accuses Netflix of portraying her falsely and defaming her character. In August 2022, six months after the Shonda Rhimes- produced miniseries debuted, former Vanity Fair photo editor and Delvey’s friend Rachael DeLoache Williams filed the lawsuit against Netflix, citing 16 instances in which it was claimed that she was defamed and vilified.

The defamation case related to the Netflix series “Inventing Anna” holds significance because it involves real people and their portrayals on the show. The lawsuit highlights the impact of media portrayals on individuals’ reputations and raises questions about the responsibility of the creators when adapting real-life events for entertainment purpose.

Background About The Issue

“Inventing Anna” is a Netflix Series based on the true story of Anna Sorokin, also known as the “Fake heiress”. It is a drama mini-series that involves a young woman who conned herself into the social elite of New York and the reporter who’s trying to get the scoop on this insane story. “Inventing Anna” begins with the arrest of a fake German heiress and alleged scammer Anna Sorokin on November 20, 2017, in Los Angeles, she is brought to New York where Manhattan ADA Catherine McCaw charges her with grand larceny and white-collar felonies. Anna’s lawyer, Todd Spodek, files for bail, but the judge rejects the plea and remands Anna to Rikers Island prison until trial. However, it’s Vivian Kent, a feature writer for Manhattan Magazine, who’s searching for one real tale to erase the blemishes on her journalism background. A few years ago, Vivian covered a story for her friend-turned-editor, Paul, in which she highlighted the young man who gained $80 million in the stock market, Donovan Lamb. Paul ran the news without double-checking it, even though Vivian had her suspicions despite the report being confirmed by all the sources. Donovan said to the reporter at The Post that Vivian had made him lie, but it was later revealed in a report that he had never made that type of money. In “Inventing Anna,” Vivian faces ridicule and is called a bad journalist because of one single mistake, so decides to reclaim her integrity by covering Anna’s story. Without the knowledge of her editors, Vivian contacts Anna and meets her at Rikers Island prison to ask for an interview, which Anna bluntly refuses.

Meanwhile, Catherine McCaw offers Anna a plea deal through Todd in which Anna receives a four-year sentence and the case is expeditiously closed. Vivian won’t receive a narrative from the entire experience if Anna accepts the plea agreement, which implies that she accepts the labels and acquisitions that have been placed on her. Therefore, in an effort to salvage her career, Vivian looks into Anna’s connections and crafts a narrative that exposes Anna’s vulnerability and persuades her. Vivian assures Anna that she would make her popular by bringing her hustle on the global stage and repairing her reputation. Anna never pursued her endeavours for financial gain; instead, she did it for respect and acclaim, as well as the opportunities Vivian provided. Anna takes the bait and rejects the plea offer, seeking a trial to defend her reputation.

One of the real people depicted in the show is Rachel DeLoache Willams, a former Vanity Fair photo editor. William filed a defamation lawsuit against Netflix, claiming that her portrayal in the series was false and damage her reputation. The law suit alleges that she was depicted as “Unethical, greedy, snobbish and disloyal in the drama. Willam had become friends with Sorokin in 2016 but later faced a $62,000 bill for an extravagant trip they took to Morocco. When the Netflix series was released, William was portrayed negatively, leading to online abuse and negative interactions. Despite Netflix’s right to create unpleasant characters, William argues that if they based the character on her, rather should have used a fictional name and changed identifying details. The legal battle continues, highlighting the impact of media portrayals on real individuals.

Reasons Why Its Noteworthy In Media Law

Defamation Lawsuit- A former friend of Anna Sorokin filed a defamation lawsuit against Netflix over the show. The legal battle highlights the balance between artistic interpretation and potential harm to real individual.

Media Responsibility- This series raises questions about media responsibility when portraying real events. How far can creators go in fictionalizing true stories without causing harm or misleading the public?

Journalistic Ethics- The character Vivian Kent, inspired by journalist Jessica Pressler, grapples with journalistic ethics. The show explores the impact of sensationalizing stories for personal gain.

Public Perception- The portrayals of real people in the series affects their public image. For instance, Rachel DeLoache William, another central figure, criticized the show’s depiction of her as superficial and self-obsessed.


A former friend of con artist Anna Sorokin was allowed to proceed with a defamation lawsuit against Netflix over Shonda Rhimes miniseries, “Inventing Anna”. The plaintiff, Rachel DeLoache William, claims that the show falsely portrays her as snobbish and greedy. Netflix argued that their interpretation of William was protected by the First Amendment, but the court ruled that some characterizations in the show could cross the line into defamation. In the series, William’s character was transformed from a victim into a foil, depicted as freeloader and false friend who hung out with Sorokin only to pick up the tab. The legal battle continues as the case proceeds. The “Inventing Anna” case underscores the intersection of Media law, ethics, prompting discussions and consequence of fictionalizing real events.

Authors: Saurojit Barua & Bhavi Shah


Interns and Paralegals.


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