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.

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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 5 Mar 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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