Movie studios can now be sued for releasing misleading trailers – will games be next?
Studios will have to be doubly careful about what content they include in their trailers
➡️ The Shortcut Skinny: Deceptive movie trailers
😮 Misleading movie trailers could soon be a thing of the past
🚫 A federal judge has ruled studios can be sued under false advertising law if they release deceptive trailers
📼 The ruling came after two disgruntled movie-goers rented 2019 film Yesterday
🌊 It could have far-reaching effects on studios
Movie studios now risk facing legal trouble if they put out deceptive trailers, after a federal judge ruled they can be sued under false advertising law.
As first reported by Variety, US district judge Stephen Wilson recently ruled on a case involving the 2019 movie Yesterday, in which Hamish Patel stars as a musician who wakes up in a world where The Beatles don’t exist.
Two Arna de Armas fans filed a lawsuit against Universal Pictures back in January, alleging they rented Yesterday after seeing the Knives Out star appear in the movie’s trailer, only to find she had made no appearance in the final film. The actor was initially part of the film as a second love interest but was cut after test audiences didn’t like her introduction.
Universal tried to have the lawsuit tossed out on the basis that the movie trailer was an “artistic, expressive work” protected under the First Amendment, so should be treated as a “non-commercial” piece. It didn’t land with Wilson, though, who rejected the argument and said trailers counted as commercial speech and are therefore subject to California’s False Advertising Law.
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“Universal is correct that trailers involve some creativity and editorial discretion, but this creativity does not outweigh the commercial nature of a trailer,” Wilson said. “At its core, a trailer is an advertisement designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie.”
As Universal argued, it’s not uncommon for movie trailers to include scenes that are removed by the film’s final edit, and the studio even pointed to one Jurassic Park trailer that is comprised wholly of cut footage.
Wilson stipulated that "the Court's holding is limited to representations as to whether an actress or scene is in the movie, and nothing else”, and that false advertising law applies to film trailers when a “significant portion” of “reasonable consumers” are misled.
Between this and the FTC’s recent decision to sue Microsoft to block its planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the US’s entertainment industry is currently experiencing a few big legal shake-ups. Movie studios might have to be a little more careful about what and who they include in future trailers so as not to fall foul of false advertising law, although we expect whatever trailer eventually releases for the forthcoming Death Stranding film will be suitably weird.
But could a similar law come into effect for video games? There are countless examples of developers releasing trailers that don’t live up to the final product, with Ubisoft being a persistent offender in the past. We’ll have to wait and see.