Universal Studios Settles Lawsuit Over Misleading 'Yesterday' Movie Trailers

Universal Studios Settles Lawsuit Over Misleading "Yesterday" Movie Trailers Photo Source: Yesterday movie promotional poster via The Indian Times

Universal Pictures has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by two men, Peter Michael Rosza and Conor Woulfe. The plaintiffs accused Universal of deceptive advertising practices related to the film "Yesterday." The settlement was confirmed on Friday as attorneys for both parties informed the court of their agreement, although the terms of the settlement remain confidential.

The controversy began when Rosza and Woulfe rented "Yesterday," a romantic comedy featuring a storyline where the protagonist becomes the only person on Earth to remember The Beatles. The plaintiffs were drawn to the movie by trailers that prominently featured actress Ana de Armas, expecting her to play a significant role in the film. However, they were disappointed to discover that de Armas's scenes had been entirely cut from the final release. Feeling misled, they sued Universal for false advertisement, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition, claiming that the studio used de Armas’s "fame, radiance, and brilliance" to attract a larger audience.

The lawsuit highlighted a critical issue in film marketing—how far studios can go in using material in promotional content that does not appear in the actual film. This practice can mislead viewers about the nature of the movie they choose to watch, potentially affecting their purchasing decisions.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed most of the plaintiffs' claims and denied class certification, stating that the injuries claimed by Rosza and Woulfe were "self-inflicted" as they did not rely on the alleged misrepresentations by Universal in their decision to watch the film. Furthermore, the court's application of California's anti-SLAPP statute led to a partial victory for Universal, which then sought to recover a significant amount in legal fees. Though initially requesting $472,000, the studio was awarded approximately $126,000.

California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute is designed to prevent people from using courts and potential threats of a lawsuit to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights. Under this law, a defendant can file a motion to strike a complaint if it is based on an act in furtherance of the defendant's right to free speech or to petition the government for a redress of grievances. If the motion is successful, the lawsuit can be dismissed early in the legal process, and the statute also allows the defendant to recover attorney's fees. This is intended to deter frivolous lawsuits that may be filed more to harass or intimidate than to resolve legitimate legal disputes. In the case involving Universal and the misleading movie trailer, the statute played a crucial role, enabling Universal to challenge the basis of the plaintiffs' claims effectively.

Universal also pursued sanctions against the plaintiffs' attorneys for what it deemed as excessive and redundant discovery practices following the dismissal of several claims.

Despite these setbacks, the settlement ends the litigation without further elaborating on the specifics of the agreement. This case serves as a precedent for how studios and marketing teams might approach future promotional strategies to avoid similar legal challenges.

Bridget Luckey
Bridget Luckey
Bridget studied Communications and Marketing at California State University, Long Beach. She also has experience in the live music events industry, which has allowed her to travel to festivals around the world. During this period, she acquired valuable expertise in branding, marketing, event planning, and public relations.
Legal Blogs (Sponsored)