Two Ana De Armas fans sued Universal Studios for false advertising for the 2018 romance musical titled “Yesterday.” California US District Judge ruled in favor of fans’ right to sue Universal Studios.
Ana De Armas was originally slated to be a love interest to the main character Jack in the 2018 musical romance titled “Yesterday.” As a result of this role, she was included in trailers and promotional content for the film. However, in the final cut of the film, her part was omitted in lieu of another love interest to be a greater focus.
De Armas fans Peter Michael Rosza and Conor Wolfe spent $3.99 from the Amazon Prime streaming service to watch the film, under the impression that the Actress would be in the film. When this did not occur, the two filed a federal class action lawsuit against Universal Pictures for $5 million on behalf of all movie customers who assumed that Ana De Armas would be a part of it since she was featured in promotional content. The pair sued it for “false advertisement, unjust enrichment, and violation of unfair competition.” Believing that [Universal Pictures] “nationwide advertising and promotion of the movie ‘Yesterday’ represents to prospective movie viewers that the world-famous actress Ana De Armas has a substantial character role in the film” and that her failure to appear in the film was “ false, misleading, and deceptive.”
Universal wanted to dismiss the case because a trailer should be allowed to have creative freedom, which would lead to more lawsuits by fans who did not feel the movie was representative of the trailer, which would lead to frivolous lawsuits. Additionally, they asserted that movie trailers should be considered “non-commercial speech” and, therefore, something protected under the 1st amendment.
In December, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that there is a legal claim to sue for false advertising if a movie studio produces and disseminates a trailer that is deceptive to general audiences. He stated that “Universal is correct that trailers involve some creativity and editorial discretion, but this creativity does not outweigh the commercial nature of a trailer,” and “At its core, a trailer is an advertisement designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie.” The judge would go on to say that the trailer should be considered “commercial speech.”
Because a trailer is not just an artistic piece but also considered commercial speech, that would make it subject to California’s False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law. This law prohibits “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising.” He qualified this by stipulating that the law should only be applied when a “significant portion” of “reasonable consumers” suffered an injury and were deceived. The case would move to the discovery phase and be classified as a class-action lawsuit.
However, in August, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ended the class-action lawsuit because the plaintiffs did not solely decide to watch the film based on the “alleged misrepresentations” of Universal Studios.
Judge Wilson stated that Plaintiff Woulfe’s “injury [was] self-inflicted.” As in August, Woulfe would give an amendment that he rented the movie again after not seeing Ana De Armas in the original version, believing she would be in the director’s cut on the Google Play platform. He then alleged that the platform also “misrepresented” the film from the trailer.
Judge Wilson would further state, “Plaintiff Woulfe has offered no explanation as to why he believed that [the] version of ‘Yesterday’ they accessed on Google Play would be a different version of the movie they accessed on Amazon.”
While unsuccessful, this case brought compelling questions into play about the role of free speech & creativity of filmmakers in comparison to fair advertising and competitive practices for studios who profit off those filmmakers and fans. This case also led many to ponder the proper role of trailers in the broader picture of film advertisement. What is the filmmaker’s obligation in what is disseminated as promotional content? What is the viewer’s obligation to research before watching a film? What reasons are cause enough to be considered false advertising? Now that the case has been thrown out, we may never know.
Ana Herndon is from Atlanta, GA, studying Public Policy, Economics, and Psychology