The blockbuster class action of the year has once again hit the headlines. The main characters are a group of US film buffs on one side and the film giant Universal Studios on the other. The plot centres around the 2019 film Yesterday. A fifteen second segment of a trailer for The Beatles inspired movie featured the actress, Ana de Armas. Come the cinematic release, however, Ms de Armas' character had been cut from the film.

Help!

Aggrieved, the claimants raised proceedings against Universal, arguing that the trailer amounted to false advertising and that they had been "deceived" into parting with $3.99 to rent the film. Claiming not to have received value for money for their rental fees, the class sued Universal for $5million for false advertising, unjust enrichment and breaches of consumer protection and fair competition law.

Let It Be

In December 2022 we wrote about the judge's decision to allow the claim to proceed. The studio had argued that the trailer was protected by the US Constitution and the right to free speech and sought to have the claim struck out. That was rejected by the judge who took the view that the trailer was commercial speech, "designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie". That brought the trailer within the scope of California's False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law, and the claim was allowed to continue.

Hello, Goodbye

Universal were successful in a number of subsequent motions to strike out. On each occasion, though, the court allow the claimants to amend their claim with a view to making it competent. However, following the latest strike out application, the court has again struck out the claim and decided that any further amendment would be pointless.

Recently, the claim had been amended and one of the claimants alleged they had rented the movie twice, from two different sources, in anticipation that Ms de Armas might appear in a directors' cut. That anticipation proved unfounded and the claimant was, again, left disappointed.

The court found that the claimants did not have standing to make this argument. There was no basis for the claimant to assume that Ms de Armas would be in the version of the film rented from the second provider. Any loss they suffered as a result of the second rental were "self-inflicted" and could not be recovered from Universal.

We Can Work it Out

As we highlighted in our previous blog on this case, there is a question as to whether consumers in Scotland would go to the lengths of opting-into class actions to recover relatively low sums of money. However, this action puts on the big screen the trend of consumers taking action against corporates when they face unfavourable product outcomes.

For more information about group proceedings generally, and links to insights into the potential risks for Scottish businesses of different types of group proceedings, visit our class actions webpage.

Contributors

Jamie Reekie

Senior Associate & Solicitor Advocate

Stephen Goldie

Head of Litigation & Partner

Craig Watt

Partner & Solicitor Advocate