Soldier Sues Because He Insists Movie 'Hurt Locker' Must Have Been Based On His Life

from the let's-explain-how-this-works... dept

You see stories all the time about moviemakers and authors being sued because someone else had a similar "idea" for a story. Those lawsuits almost always end up going nowhere fast. Now in a slight twist on this, someone's demanding cash because a movie character is based on him. Matthew Cruse was the first of a whole bunch of you to send in the story of how Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver is suing the producers/filmmakers and screenplay writer of the movie Hurt Locker, claiming that the main character was based on him. That's nice, but how is that against the law in any way shape or form? The problem is that it isn't. In most cases (there are some exceptions), you can make a movie out of someone's life without their permission, thanks to that old First Amendment.

The fine folks over at The Hollywood Reporter have gotten their hands on the actual complaint (pdf) and explain how Sarver hopes to get around the pesky First Amendment with some creative lawyering:
According to the complaint, before [screenwriter] Boal was embedded with the military, he and Playboy agreed to "ground rules" set by the Department of Defense. One of the rules was that reporters would be restricted in the type of personal information they could report on a service member. Reporters were limited to releasing a member's name and hometown only, and only on the condition the service member had provided consent.

Was this agreement sufficient to give Sarver a stake in the story and film? He says so. Another claim in the lawsuit is for breach of contract. Another is violation of privacy.
This still seems like a huge long shot by someone who feels entitled to something he has no actual legal rights over. Even if the story was completely based on Sarver (and the filmmakers claim that it was a fictional story), it's hard to see any courtroom outcome that leads to him getting a cut of the film, as he's requesting. Of course, it's amusing to note that while he claims the movie was based on him, he's also claiming defamation, in that the movie portrays him in false light (such as in that the character is a bad father). So, wait. Isn't that effectively admitting that the character in the movie is not him and is, indeed, a fictional character? Of course, we did write about one case last year that stunningly found that a fictional character can be libelous, but we're still hoping that was an aberration that won't be repeated.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Ryan, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 11:34am

    Goddamn greedy corporations, we need to get the G-men we voted for in there to regulate the hell out of them!

    Wait, fuck. That doesn't work here either; it doesn't appear Sarver is entitled to the corporate veil. Eventually I'll get it, I'm sure.

     

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    Jon Snow (profile), Mar 4th, 2010 @ 11:58am

    Another hometown whacko

    Right on the heels of yesterday's story about John Conyers, we have another Detroit based nutcase in the news. Sarver is represented by our very own Geoff Fieger, of Dr. Kevorkian fame. Although I personally think Feiger is a lot crazier than Kevorkian was.

    By the way, if you ever want to find Feiger, just follow the TV cameras.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 12:40pm

    No everybody knows how is life is

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 12:40pm

    Now everybody knows how is life is

     

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    another mike (profile), Mar 4th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

    how's that disclaimer go?

    "This movie is a work of fiction. Any similarity to any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."

    Oh, no, wait. I was thinking of "No animals were harmed in the making of this film." Sorry, my bad.

     

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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Mar 4th, 2010 @ 12:54pm

    So even though they didn't use Sarver's name, and changed the portrayal of the character enough that he doesn't behave the way Sarver says he behaves, it's somehow him?

    You know what? Avatar was based off my life. I met James Cameron once and told him how I wanted to go into space someday. Then he went and made a whole movie about that. But he's defamed my name because I'm not handicaped. I want a cut of Avatar's profits now or I'll sue him. Makes about as much sense as Sarver's claims.

     

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      Reed, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 3:24pm

      Re: Flip of the coin

      I think your right on, but at the same time if you flipped the coin and this guy's son is caught distributing his own dads story (the movie) on a torrent would he would be infringing?

       

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    Nate, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 1:00pm

    Haha, beautiful.

    "That character is clearly based off of me, and that's NOTHING like how I really act!"

     

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    yozoo, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 1:03pm

    someone owes me big!

    Im pretty sure Avatar is about an acid trip I had in college. Im not sure how Cameron heard about it but I did tell alot of people.

     

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    Tom Barger, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    Studios Tie Up News Rights

    I lived in Hollywood since 1970. Tim Wu asked this question a few years ago and had a pretty good grasp.' "Why should anyone spend money to tie up a news item?"

    This behavior is puzzling---the studio lawyers and producers who grind over and over the same old plots. They want to tie-up any and everybody who has a connection to a news event.

    For example sign up the rights from the sheriff who was first on the scene of the child at the bottom of the well cave-in.

    This is of course hypocrisy on the behalf of the purveyors of artistic works. The studios snort, huffle and stamp their heels at each other and try to frighten off competitors to the same genre, whether all the movies in one year are about volcanoes, meteors, or pirates-- what have you. Thinking ahead 3 years to the release window.

    Otherwise, they *should* understand the dilemma of any writer, that is, studios and writers all strip-mine the same materials.

    I heard advice from one animator---"Don't pitch that story to Disney. They openly admit upfront they'll steal the idea."

    Today's NY Times is amusing, Barry Avrich is doing an unauthorized documentary on producer Weinstein Brothers, and they told him Tarantino will put out a competing project.

    The previous doc on Wasserman, while he was around, would have got the director killed, or at least a horsehead courtesy of Sidney Korshak. Which actually happened to Wasserman daughter's fiancee.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 1:26pm

    Speaking of Avatar, whoever wrote the screenplay for Dances With Wolves probably has more reason to be upset with that movie than this Sarver guy.

    I spent the entire second half of the movie waiting for Kevin Costner to pop out in a headdress.

     

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    Andy, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 4:39pm

    Read the credits!

    Isn't this exactly why every movie has a disclaimer in the credits that says "this is a work of fiction, any resemblance to any person or situation is purely coincidental" or something to that effect?

     

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    Igor Zevaka (profile), Mar 4th, 2010 @ 8:34pm

    This reminds me of "The Case of the Stolen Smell" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Coka_Tadasuke). I really feel for the guy, but I kind of agree that the lawsuit is without much merit.

    The movie is undoubtedly based on this guy. That much is obvious. He should get someone to write a book for him and promote it on the back of the movie. The studios will clearly object but in doing so they will have to admit to using him as an inspiration for the story.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 9:09pm

    Since this lawsuit has nothing to do with one of your pet peeves, "monopolies" granted under law via, inter alia, patent and copyright laws, I am a bit surprised that you are now taking on basic tort and contract law that has been around since time immemorial.

    It is beginning to sound as if some of your articles are straying from economic agruments and expanding to articles having not a whit to do with economic theory.

    Perhaps our judicial system should simply fold its tent and let "Que sera" rule the day.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 4th, 2010 @ 10:20pm

      Re:

      It is beginning to sound as if some of your articles are straying from economic agruments and expanding to articles having not a whit to do with economic theory.

      Huh? I write about what interests me. I always find it amusing when people think that they have the right to tell me what is acceptable content for this site.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re:

        I would have likely ignored this article but for the fact you used it to once more promote your understanding of basic legal principles associated with tort and contract law and your thinly veiled contempt for lawsuits and judicial decisions that do not reflect your understanding.

         

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 11:28am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I would have likely ignored this article but for the fact you used it to once more promote your understanding of basic legal principles associated with tort and contract law and your thinly veiled contempt for lawsuits and judicial decisions that do not reflect your understanding.

          I did nothing of the sort. (1) I pointed out how ridiculous it is from a *common sense* standpoint for this to be occurring and (2) I linked to legal analysis from real actual lawyers who pointed out that this had little chance of getting through.

          It is not "contempt for lawsuits and judicial decisions that do not reflect my understanding." It's called giving an opinion.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 12:54pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            What link?

            What "real actual lawyers"?

            I tracked all the links, and links in each link, before even making my comment.

            Take a look at the complaint. The facts are more involved than the article here suggests.

             

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    Kurto (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 2:04am

    Entitilement

    "...by someone who feels entitled to something he has no actual legal rights over"

    This is the key issue. I'm not sure if it is a misguided sense of entitlement, or just greed - thinking you can get away with a claim.

     

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    MRK, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 6:46am

    Lets say I'm a reporter. I follow you around for a few weeks writing stories about you. I then write a screenplay based on those experiences. I change the names around, but all of the important, and many of the unimportant details are the same. I even publicly admit the character is based on you in various interviews promoting the film. I stand to make millions, you will get nothing. I've taken your life story and used it for my own gain. Your story is now mine, sucker.

    Just putting a disclaimer "This characters in this film are fictional...etc" is not legal protection in any manner. Otherwise I would have a bumper sticker on my car that says "The operator of this vehicle is not responsible for an collisions that may occur".

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 11:26am

      Re:

      Lets say I'm a reporter. I follow you around for a few weeks writing stories about you. I then write a screenplay based on those experiences. I change the names around, but all of the important, and many of the unimportant details are the same. I even publicly admit the character is based on you in various interviews promoting the film. I stand to make millions, you will get nothing. I've taken your life story and used it for my own gain. Your story is now mine, sucker.

      Wait, how has this guy lost his story?

      People write stories based on people they know all the time. That's called writing. And it's not illegal.

       

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    Jeff Brown, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 12:26pm

    Sgt. Sarver is Clearly Right

    The "hurt Locker" writer had no unique or prior experience until after the reporter was embedding with the troop. It is clear that the story and the frutis thereof were gained after the embeddment. The "Hurt Locker" is not an original story and the soldier in question has rights re the original usage or exploitation of his unique ideas, experiences and performance. The writer et al of the "Hurt Locker" would have to demonstrate a story, proof of an original concept for the story, prior to the embeddment with the soldiers. It is not a First amendment issue.

     

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