Soldier Who Claimed 'Hurt Locker' Must Be About Him SLAPPed Down

from the you're-so-vain,-you-think-this-hurt-locker-is-about-you dept

While we still think the producers of the movie Hurt Locker are crazy for trying to sue thousands of people who downloaded their movie, we certainly supported their position in a different legal fight. In early 2010, a soldier named Jeffrey Sarver sued, claiming that the movie was based on his life. Of course, as we noted at the time, it’s not illegal to make a movie based on someone’s life without their permission, but he tried to argue that the movie violated certain “ground rules” that were agreed to before he was interviewed by the screenwriter. We also found it amusing that, not only did he claim that the movie was about him, he also claimed “defamation” saying that the movie portrayed him in a false light. I still have trouble seeing how both could be the case. If they accurately portray him, it’s illegal… but if they don’t accurately portray him, it’s defamation?

Either way, the case has not survived its own hurt locker. Using California’s anti-SLAPP law, the judge made quick work dismissing the case. The judge noted that the movie was protected by the First Amendment, and the lawsuit was an attempt to silence that. Separately, it found little chance that the guy would prevail on a publicity rights claim, because “no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the work was not transformative,” since the movie character was, in fact, quite different from the actual guy. As for the defamation claim, the court dumped those, noting that the movie is fiction and not about the guy… but even if it were the movie probably wasn’t defamatory:

The Court agrees with Defendants that the movie is sufficiently transformative such that Plaintiff?s defamation claim is barred. Further, Will James is not Plaintiff?s name, and the beginning of the film contains a specific disclaimer that the film is a work of fiction. (Hurt Locker Motion at 15.) However, even assuming, arguendo, that a reasonable viewer would believe the movie is about Plaintiff, he has nevertheless failed to present sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case that the depictions of him are false.

The judge says that Sarver’s complaints that the movie portrays him as a bad father and having no respect or compassion for human life, don’t rise to the level of defamation. In fact, in what may be a bit of film criticism by the judge, the various claims are disputed, saying that the character of Will James in the film does appear to care about his son, does have compassion and was not “fascinated with war and death.” It also notes that the evidence suggests that Sarver was pretty fascinated by his job in the war, so even if the movie character was portrayed that way, it wouldn’t be defamation.

There were a few other charges in the lawsuit, and each one was dismissed with ease. In fact, things were so against Server that the judge has now ordered him to pay the legal fees of the movie’s producers. Nice to see a little common sense pushback for people being overly aggressive in claiming rights they don’t have.

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Companies: voltage pictures

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Comments on “Soldier Who Claimed 'Hurt Locker' Must Be About Him SLAPPed Down”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He did not have an idea for a movie.
He did have a set of experiences that he opted to share with some writers.
The writers crafted a narrative, most likely using some of what he told them, with more realism.
He did not place any contractual limitations on what he shared with them.
A movie came out, where he assumed and told the world he was the main character.
The story is a work of fiction, and while it might have some parallels to his life it is not presented as a biographical picture of him.
Had he not jumped up and down and screamed they stole my life story and I’m not a douche, no one would have ever connected him to it.

This is a movie that “went big”, and he decided he was deserving of money. He wanted the money for stealing his story, making him look like a douche, and for not giving him control over something he expressed no real concern over at the time he was interviewed.

While I detest the copyright trolling being done by this company, I can not see where the judge went all wonky on this case.

tracker1 (profile) says:

Re: Contract Violation

Even if not in writing it could have been pursued as a violation of contractual agreement. Similar to the Taco Bell Dog lawsuits… which would have been very similar, and probably had a better chance of succeeding.

Not that I agree with a lot of things regarding this whole ordeal… The movie hasn’t and still doesn’t appeal to me.

A says:


well, when you see what they did with “Track Down” (aka Takedown)(2000 movie), because Kevin Mitnick refused to agree with John Markoff on the publishing contract, you have the right to be mad when someone add some false claims about “you” to make more money out of the film.

The judge, police officers and prison guards based their opinion on the Track Down movie and the book, not the real facts. The medias released about an event are not neutral at all.

When they made the Hurt Locker movie, they shouldn’t have included him in the process if they planned on making a fiction… or they should have make sure he was fully aware of the more-than-probable fiction side of the movie. You don’t pick people’s stories and do what you want with them like that, otherwise you’re just being a d!ck.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: -

Ummm…just what are you talking about? I can pick any person in the world, make a movie about them and stretch the story any way I want, as long as I have the “This is a work of FICTION” disclaimer. How is it being a d!ck if all I’m doing is exercising my First Amendment rights?
“or they should have make sure he was fully aware of the more-than-probable fiction side of the movie.” Are you saying this guy, Sarver, was too idiotic to realize this wasn’t a biographical film? Or did he not notice the Fiction disclaimer?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: -

“When they made the Hurt Locker movie, they shouldn’t have included him in the process if they planned on making a fiction”

So, I can’t consult an experienced veteran if I’m making a fictional movie about people in his field? Or, are you saying that the resulting piece of fiction that doesn’t name him in any way, but draws on the information he gave me, should result in a lawsuit because it’s fictionalised?

The Mitnick case is rather different since it’s a film expressly about Mitnick and claims to be a true story. The Hurt Locker changed names and didn’t identify Sarver in any way other than similarities to the facts he freely gave during interview.

abc gum says:

“While we still think the producers of the movie Hurt Locker are crazy for trying to sue thousands of people who downloaded their movie…..”

A foregone conclusion then?
I submit the theory that at least one and most likely more accusation letters would arrive at an innocent party’s address. In addition, I assume that those who pursue such litigation are not concerned about the collateral damage, would fight to keep that out of the press, and would insist that accused party “settle” rather than have their day in court. It is sad what some people do for a living.

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