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.