War vet says he's suing 'Hurt Locker' for ID theft

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War vet says he's suing 'Hurt Locker' for ID theft

Wed Mar 03, 2010 @ 10:13AM PST

UPDATE: A look at the complaint

By Eriq Gardner

The-hurt-locker1 At the end of most movies, you'll see the standard disclaimer that reads, "Any resemblance to actual persons -- living or dead -- is purely coincidental."

In reality, to avoid controversy and nagging legal costs, filmmakers will usually go out of their way to obtain rights to any life story that can be argued as being more than a coincidence. But are they under any obligation to do so?

We ask the question upon seeing a press release from a self-reputed Iraq War hero who says he's filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the makers of Oscar frontrunner "The Hurt Locker," claiming that the story of an Army bomb squad was a thinly veiled account of his own life story. Take a look at the complaint.

Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver claims he's the film's main character, "Will James" or "Blaster One." He alleges that the filmmakers falsely claimed that the characters portrayed in the film are fictional and they decided to cheat Sarver out of financial participation in the film.

The film's screenplay was written by journalist Mark Boal, who based it on his own 2004 Playboy magazine article entitled "Death and Dishonor." Boal researched his story while being embedded with the military, and it's alleged that this is where he came into contact with Sarver. The plaintiff also says he was the one who coined the phrase "The Hurt Locker."

But even if Boal took Sarver's life story, we're not sure Sarver has a strong case.

According to legal experts on this topic, Sarver will need to overcome First Amendment protections that give broad protections on speech. Just putting someone's life story up on screen may not be enough.

Sarver's claims may be stronger if he, himself, had written about his experience in Iraq. Had Sarver written about his war stories, he might have been able to pursue a copyright claim that producers of "Hurt Locker" had violated his expression.

Sarver's best case may actually be if producers of "Hurt Locker" got things wrong. Potentially, Sarver could claim that "Will James" is just a thinly veiled depiction of him, but that they had put him in false light and defamed him with dishonest treatment about his character. We have seen these types of "libel-in-fiction" claims come up recently. 

We'll reserve judgment until we actually see the complaint. Of course, coming just days before the Oscar winners are announced certainly puts the film in a bad light. Which might be the ultimate point of this case.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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