The film "Philadelphia" was not a fictional movie, as Tri-Star Pictures says, but the true story of an attorney who sued the world's largest law firm for firing him because he had AIDS, a lawyer argued today.

The allegation was made during opening arguments in a case brought by the family of Geoffrey Bowers accusing Tri-Star, a unit of Sony Corp., and prominent movie producers Jonathan Demme and Scott Rudin of breaching a contract by refusing to pay them for the deceased lawyer's story.

Other defendants in the case include Ron Nyswaner, who wrote the screenplay for "Philadelphia."

"Scott Rudin repeatedly told the plaintiffs they should be paid by Tri-Star. Scott Rudin said that Tri-Star had a moral obligation to pay the plaintiffs," Lawrence Friedman told a Manhattan federal jury.

"Ron Nyswaner will tell you from the stand that Philadelphia' is not fictional," he said.

At issue is whether the 1993 movie starring Tom Hanks, which has been highly praised for exposing the discrimination suffered by AIDS victims, was actually based on Bowers's life.

The successful young lawyer sued the world's largest law firm, Baker & McKenzie, alleging he had been fired because he had AIDS. He died in 1987 after testifying at the trial against the firm but before the case was decided in his favor.

Bowers's family and friends, including two law school classmates who represented him in his discrimination suit, are seeking unspecified damages including a punitive award aimed at punishing Tri-Star.

The family alleges it was promised $1 million for information and 5 percent of net proceeds from the movie.

"Philadelphia" has grossed $197 million internationally and won two Academy Awards.

Tri-Star maintains that the story behind the movie was developed by Nyswaner and Demme and is based on numerous sources, including the reports of Bowers's lawsuit.

Defense lawyers also argued that there was never a written contract with the family because they did not have the rights to Bowers's life story. Instead Bowers had left those rights to his companion, who also died of AIDS and did not have a will.

"This case is not about Geoffrey Bowers. It is not about his struggle with AIDS.. . . It is not about his death," said Lauren Brody, a lawyer representing Rudin.

"This case is about a business deal that was never consummated because there was no agreement between the parties."

But Friedman argued that are more than 40 plot elements that the plaintiffs had told Rubin. He added that a Tri-Star lawyer had urged producers to remove certain scenes because they were too similar to events in Bowers's life but the producers had refused.