‘Queen of Versailles’ wins battle with filmmaker over rights to life story

Stephanie Rietz, Reporter

By Sara K. Clarke

Orlando Sentinel


ORLANDO, Fla. — The Queen of Versailles has her life back.

David and Jacqueline Siegel are free to pursue their dreams of reality TV after winning a legal fight. An arbitrator recently ruled against a filmmaker who claimed the Siegels signed away rights to their life story while making the documentary “The Queen of Versailles.”

“I’m so happy to actually be myself again,” Jacqueline Siegel said Monday. “I feel like the queen is out of exile.”

But the Siegels’ victory comes alongside a defeat: They will have to pay $750,000 in legal fees to filmmaker Lauren Greenfield and her husband, Frank Evers, in connection with a separate lawsuit. David Siegel’s Orlando-based time-share company, Westgate Resorts, sued the couple for defamation but lost. An arbitrator in that case said he did not find any of the content in the movie to be false.

The Siegels have been locked in legal battles with Greenfield and her associates for more than a year. “The Queen of Versailles” detailed the Siegels’ bid to build the biggest home in America and chronicled the crushing impact of the global recession on David Siegel’s time-share business, which has since begun to recover.

An attorney for the Siegels noted that the Siegels’ life-story rights were valued at $50 million in court documents.

“All in all, it’s unfortunate that Westgate did not prevail in the defamation proceeding but the Siegels are very gratified to know they can be free of Ms. Greenfield and her company in terms of their future endeavors,” said Michael Marder, an attorney for the couple.

The victory could pave the way for the Siegels to do a reality television show. David Siegel said the couple is in negotiations with several networks for a show but he could not release details.

Greenfield argued the couple signed away rights to their life story as part of the filming release; an arbitrator ruled differently, saying the life-story releases are invalid and unenforceable.

Attorneys for the filmmakers said their victory in the defamation suit was a triumph for First Amendment rights.

“This is a victory for documentary filmmakers and their ability to tell a story truthfully and freely about the moneyed and powerful, without fear of intimidation or retribution,” Greenfield and Evers said in a statement.