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Movie studios can be sued for misleading trailers, judge rules

Coming soon to a courtroom near you: Lawsuits over misleading movie trailers.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson has ruled that movie studios can be sued for false advertising over deceptive trailers, Variety reports

The decision came as part of a lawsuit filed against Universal by fans of actress Ana de Armas, who are seeking $5 million in damages after renting the movie Yesterday because she was in the trailer, only to find her scenes were cut from the movie.

Universal argued movie trailers are non-commercial speech and protected under the First Amendment, so the lawsuit should be dismissed. But the judge disagreed, concluding a trailer is fundamentally "an advertisement," so the plaintiffs can "proceed with their claims without offending the First Amendment."

The plaintiffs have not actually won the lawsuit, which has only been allowed to move forward to discovery. But Deadline noted the case could lead to studios being forced to tone down "the hyperbole visually, verbally and otherwise" in trailers to avoid litigation, even though it's common for film marketing to include scenes not in the final product. 

Universal's lawyers also warned of creating a precedent in which studios are "subject to burdensome litigation" over an "unlimited number of disappointments a viewer could claim" about a film based on expectations from the trailer.  

The judge did say, though, that the court's "holding is limited to representations as to whether an actress or scene is in the movie, and nothing else." This is as opposed to, for example, arguing a trailer does not properly convey the tone or genre of the film. A woman tried to make that argument in a previous lawsuit in relation to 2011's Drive, claiming the trailers wrongly suggested it would be an action movie "similar to the Fast and Furious." But an appeals court dismissed the case.