Hollywood Docket: Warner Bros. Fires Back at 'War Dogs' Lawsuit

Plus, 'Queen of the Desert' producers settle a piracy lawsuit and Dr. Luke reaches a deal in a copyright case over "Price Tag."
Screengrab/Warner Bros. Pictures
'War Dogs'

Warner Bros. is firing back at a lawsuit alleging it misappropriated a former gunrunner's life story to make War Dogs.

Instead of following the often-traveled but rarely successful path of suing a studio for copyright infringement, ex-arms dealer Efraim Diveroli is suing for breach of an NDA, misappropriation of his likeness rights and conversion of confidential and proprietary information.

In a motion to dismiss under Florida's anti-SLAPP statute, the studio says the lawsuit is nothing more than baseless causes of action with flawed premises.

Suing through his company Incarcerated Entertainment, Diveroli claims he had teamed up with Hollywood producer Elliott Kahn to sell the film rights to his manuscript "Once a Gun Runner." But while he was in prison for violating arms embargoes, his manuscript and information given to a Rolling Stone reporter were used to write an unauthorized book that tells his story. That book, Arms and the Dudes by Guy Lawson, is the basis of Warners' War Dogs.

“If IE does not like War Dogs, its remedy is to engage in competing speech in the marketplace of ideas — not to file a lawsuit,” states the motion.

Warner Bros. secured the rights from Lawson to make a film based on his 2011 article and claims Diveroli began writing his life story “several months” after the studio’s deal with Lawson was public.

“IE cannot and does not point to any contract or legal duty that prevented Lawson from reporting and republishing all of the source material that Diveroli gave him,” states the motion. “More importantly, IE fails to point to a single private fact the Warner Defendants allegedly took from the manuscript (or otherwise) and used in War Dogs." 

The bottom line, Warners argues, is that the story of how two “young, often-stoned” arms dealers became gunrunners with a $300 million government contract is a matter of public interest and the film is protected speech.

“Movies generally — and especially those that dramatize front-page news events — are shielded by the First Amendment, and no person has an exclusive right to tell or to shape such stories,” states the motion. "IE seeks to chill speech on matters of significant public concern (e.g., war profiteering, government mismanagement,and criminal misconduct) and all based on spurious legal flames that are barred by well-established caselaw. It is hard to imagine a case more worthy of SLAPP protection."

In other entertainment legal news:

Queen of the Desert producers have settled a piracy lawsuit they filed against a handful of Oregon BitTorrent users in February. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but attorney Carl Crowell says the infringer they identified will no longer illegally distribute the film. He also says this should be a lesson to internet pirates that Hollywood will defend itself. "My clients have an interest in letting people know that this is something that is illegal," Crowell says. "Piracy is not a victimless crime. This has cost my clients quite a bit of money and is very damaging to the industry."

— Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has recently paid $25,000 to the owners of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" to resolve a copyright infringement lawsuit. Huckabee played the song without a license or permission at a September campaign appearance with Kim Davis, the highly controversial county clerk who gained notoriety after refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky. Survivor bandmembers immediately spoke out that they had not given Huckabee permission to use the Rocky III song, and Rude Music filed the lawsuit in November. The candidate proffered an unusual defense of "religious assembly" in January, but ultimately settled.

— HBO and the producers of the documentary Newburgh Sting are being sued for copyright infringement over courtroom sketches used in the film, online and in promotional materials. According to the lawsuit filed in New York federal court, professional courtroom sketch artists Shirley and Andrea Shepard created copyrighted works during the 2010 trial of four men who were apprehended for a suspected terror part. The Shepards claim HBO, as well as Covert Productions, Broad Street Review and its owner Daniel Rottenberg, used their images without paying to license it. “Defendants knew they had no license,” states the complaint. “In fact, they removed the copyright owners name from the sketch.”

— Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) has settled a copyright infringement lawsuit over Jesse J's track "Price Tag," months after a New York federal judge denied the producer's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the similar elements weren't protectable. New Old Music Group sued in 2013, alleging the breakbeat in the mega-hit was taken from a 1975 composition entitled "Zimba Ku." The case has been dismissed with prejudice and without costs, so New Old won't be able to sue again and each party has to pay its own attorneys fees.