Man Suing Over 'Citizenfour' Looks to Drag U.S. Into Edward Snowden Leaks Lawsuit

Citizenfour - P 2015

Horace Edwards, the retired naval officer who last month sued the makers and distributors of Citizenfour, has filed an amended complaint that names the "United States of America" as a putative involuntary plaintiff.

In his lawsuit over the documentary covering Edward Snowden's revelations about government spying, Edwards objects to how the former CIA officer/contractor broke a confidentiality agreement and how the documentary wasn't given to the CIA for prepublication clearance review. He demands a constructive trust to redress the alleged unjust enrichment by the film.

The problem with the lawsuit, as many observers have opined since The Hollywood Reporter first revealed the legal action, is that Edwards may not have standing to pursue such action in court.

Maybe in an effort to rectify this, Edwards and his attorney Jean Lamfers are adding the United States of America as a "real party in interest."

That might not really solve the problem, however, as the U.S. government could seek to oppose joinder by using a legal privilege known as sovereign immunity. Here, for example, is the government's response when a plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit over the lack of wheelchair seating in a "stadium"-style movie theater looked to drag the government in as an involuntary plaintiff.

That said, it could force the government to at least speak up about Citizenfour — if only to say that it doesn't wish to be a part of this case. (Incidentally, the Justice Department just announced new guidelines about how prosecutors investigate leaks of classified material.)

Not everyone agrees that the Edwards lawsuit over Citizenfour is hopeless. For example, there's Frank Snepp, the former CIA officer whose book triggered a dispute that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and is one of the precedents that Edwards is looking to exploit. Snepp tells THR that although he hates the idea that filmmakers could be liable for disclosures by government leakers, he believe Edwards' lawsuit is "rooted in solid law" and comparable to common qui tam suits. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Edwards' attorney has already experienced one loss. Last month, Lamfers attempted to get the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to disqualify Citizenfour from Oscar consideration, citing a significant portion of the documentary appearing in a nontheatrical medium (The Guardian's website) prior to the film's theatrical release. After reviewing the situation, the Academy rejected it and deemed the film Oscar-eligible.

Twitter: @eriqgardner