The story of the James Bond boxset that was promoted as having all the films in it – even though technically, it was missing two of them.
The entertainment business isn’t shy of people chancing their arm with lawsuits, aimed in the direction of multi-billion dollar conglomerates. Amongst my favourites is the woman who, in October 2011, filed suit against distributors FilmDistrict over the trailer it released for Nicolas Winding Refn’s terrific movie, Drive. She contended, not entirely unreasonably, that the trailer released for the film bore little relation to the movie she actually got when she duly bought her ticket to see it. She wanted to get her ticket refunded, and also for movie studios to stop running “misleading movie trailers”.
A glance at a selection of promos for recent releases suggests this was one metaphorical needle that was not moved.
As much as the woman in question attracted headlines calling her not very nice things, the core argument of misleading advertising was at least worth a conversation. But more recently there was a case that’s changed the way, just slightly, in which DVD and Blu-ray boxsets have been sold.
This was a far more tangible issue to prove. Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movies, MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment announced it was releasing a ‘Bond 50’ boxset. It would feature “all” of the James Bond films to that date, with a space left in the packaging for the-then upcoming Skyfall disc release. And in fairness to its distributors, it’s a glorious release too.
But as many noted at the time, it wasn’t a complete one. There are, of course, two ‘unofficial’ James Bond films. The original 1967 movie of Casino Royale was possible because the rights to that book were sold by Ian Fleming independently of the rest of his Bond novels, and the resultant movie was a scatty comedy featuring the likes of Orson Welles, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. At best, it’s a film regarded as a novelty, and an offbeat footnote in history for a hugely successful movie franchise.
Then, in the early 1980s, Thunderball co-writer Kevin McClory exercised his rights to remake that particular story, resulting in the unofficial Bond adventure Never Say Never Again. That’s the one that lured Sean Connery back to the role of 007 for the first time in a decade (and led tot he 1983 battle of the Bonds). A fat cheque and a splendid toupee sealed the deal.
Neither Casino Royale nor Never Say Never Again are considered part of the official James Bond cinematic lore, yet there are undeniably both 007 films. They’re based on Ian Fleming’s creation, and James Bond is the central character. Notwithstanding the fact that they were made outside of the auspices of Bond creative overlords Eon, they still exist.
And they weren’t in the aforementioned boxset.
Contextually, at the time they released the set, neither MGM nor Fox wasn’t actually in a position to include either film. Sony held Casino Royale’s rights, but whilst that particular studio had been a key partner in the Daniel Craig films, it didn’t hold the home entertainment rights to the Bond movies. Furthermore, McClory’s claim to Thunderball was still valid, and it wasn’t until 2013 that Bond parent companies Eon and Danjaq finally bought his stake up, ending decades of animosity.
This wasn’t in time for the Bond 50 set, even if Fox and MGM had been inclined to include them. Nonetheless, it pressed ahead with copy on the back of the box that claimed the set included “all the Bond films”, including “every gorgeous girl, every nefarious villain and charismatic star rom Sean Connery, the legendary actor who started it all, to Daniel Craig.
Mary Johnson of Washington was one of the many who bought the set a few years down the line, and it’d be fair to say she wasn’t impressed. Far from including “all the Bond films”, she noted the absence of the two titles – that MGM now had the rights to include by the time she bought it – and also of Bonds such as David Niven. And she decided to do something about it.
Thus, she filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that the way the set was promoted violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
She argued that she “did not receive the product she was led to believe she purchased” and that “the representations that Defendants make on the James Bond sets are false, mislead consumers (and Plaintiff in particular), and constitute unfair and deceptive business practices in violation of applicable law.”
Her complaints also noted that MGM had the rights to the missing films, yet hadn’t updated the set to include them, and was still selling it with its original packaging copy.
MGM firmly refuted the suit describing its claims as “frivolous”, but the court saw something in the argument, and allowed the case to continue. This was back in 2017. MGM then moved to dismiss the motion, arguing “no reasonable purchaser would expect that a box set would contain films that are not included on the list of titles clearly printed on its packaging”.
But this time, the court wasn’t buying it.
What’s interesting about this case though is that it pretty much went the distance. That by the middle of 2018 it was still rumbling, and whilst liability was not accepted, MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment folded somewhat. There was presumably sufficient doubt in there somewhere that it wasn’t on entirely safe ground.
The settlement required that MGM and Fox would have to provide digital copies of the missing movies, at a cost of an estimated $8.7m. This covered Johnson, and others who had joined her in a class action suit. Johnson herself was awarded a further $5000, and Fox agreed to change the packaging of the set going forward, so as not to imply things were included that weren’t.
Turns out in the end this wasn’t quite the frivolous lawsuit it was described as, although Johnson herself attracted a fair amount of negativity for bringing the case. But, thanks to her, if for instance anyone in the future advertises a boxset of ‘every Judi Dench film ever’, no studio would dare to leave a copy of Cats out of it. That’s surely something we can all be grateful for.
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