Warner Brothers, the makers of the 2016 comedy War Dogs, have been hauled into a Florida federal court by the very person the film is based on. The subject of the film, Efraim Diveroli, is a convicted arms dealer who is currently incarcerated. Diveroli is asserting that the film was advertised as being a true story, his true story, and does not actually accurately depict the true story.
While the case is still relatively new, Diveroli has cleared the first hurdle in bringing his claim and survived a motion to dismiss. At this stage, if Warner does not settle, they will actually have to respond to the factual allegations in court (though that could take years to play out). Diveroli is seeking to hold Warner liable for his financial losses, as well as for misleading the public.
Based on a True Story
In 2014, Diveroli finished his own manuscript detailing his life's story. Unfortunately, he was unable to sell the script to any film production companies. Further compounding his misfortune, Warner did not even offer to option Diveroli's account, and instead chose to hire a writer that had done a Rolling Stone piece on Diveroli to write the script.
Although, legally, Warner can make a movie and take whatever creative liberties along the way, Diveroli is alleging that presenting the movie as "a true story," rather than being "based on a true story" amounts to false advertising. Diveroli is essentially claiming that Warner asserted that their movie was the true story, rather than just based on a true story.
Truth in False Advertising
When it comes to false advertising claims, a federal law known as the Lantham Act protects both businesses and consumers. The law provides that advertisers may not make knowingly false or misleading claims when advertising their products or services, and that if a competitor is damaged by those statements, the competitor can file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages.
Here, since Diveroli had written his own script and attempted to sell that script, the court found that his claims for false advertising presented legitimate issues of fact, and a jury will sort out whether the marketing materials Warner used that claimed the movie was a true story were misleading.