Movie Producer Sues Variety Over Bad Review

from the entitlement-culture dept

This is becoming all too common. We recently wrote about the lawyer who sued a publisher over a negative review of her book. Apparently, this sort of thing is becoming more common. The producer of an independent movie called Iron Cross, Joshua Newton, is suing Variety for posting a negative review of his movie after he bought a huge advertising spread from the magazine. In trying to defend the lawsuit, Newton lays out how Variety courted him over a huge advertising deal, suggesting the magazine would help find the film a distributor and also get it into consideration for the Oscars. Of course, nothing in that meant that the magazine's reviews should be compromised. Newton's argument isn't exactly going to win him much support:
I'm not suing them over a bad review. The problem we had was the timing. Robert Koehler, the critic, could have put it on his own website. If he'd have written it for TheWrap it would have just been one of those things. The problem was that Variety should have waited until the campaign was over. They completely destroyed the campaign that they sold us.
Basically, he seems to be suggesting that because he bought hundreds of thousands of ads from Variety, the magazine isn't allowed to post an honest review of the flick. Fascinating.

Newton, by the way, goes on to suggest that the business side at Variety knows it made a mistake, and that the recent firings of Variety's in-house movie critics is to more easily "control" movie reviews, so that Variety doesn't run reviews that trash movies that have paid lots of money to advertise with Variety. If true, of course, that would basically destroy whatever credibility Variety has left. Even so, though, suing over a bad movie review -- just because you bought ads in the magazine -- doesn't make much sense.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    L, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 2:23pm

    Breach of Contract

    Some of these ad campaigns include either a non-disparagement clause (can't say anything bad about the company/product), or a right-of-refusal clause (can't say anything about the company/product without permission). If the agreement had either one in there, it's a breach of contract.

    It could also be a breach of contract in violating what's called "the covenant of good faith and fair dealing." This means that when you do a deal for a purpose, you're not going to purposely do something to screw the other party from obtaining the purpose. If they run the ad campaign and also the scathing review, they could argue that variety breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

     

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  2.  
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    Jamie Carl (profile), Mar 15th, 2010 @ 3:12pm

    I can see it now. On the left page is an ad for the movie saying how great it is and that people should go and see it. On the right page is a review saying it's crap and should be avoided.

    Nah, that doesn't sound dodgy at all.

     

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  3.  
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    Technopolitical (profile), Mar 15th, 2010 @ 3:14pm

    Adv vs copy

    Any idiot should know that the ad-dept "sells" ads, and will say most anything to sell an ad.

    The same idiot should Ad-dept is not the editiorial dept. The two dept. teams probably don't even know each others names.

    Buy an ad get a great review !! I would expect that ad -sellers should be fired. But you got to be a real dope to buy the line.

     

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  4.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 15th, 2010 @ 3:22pm

    Re:

    I can see it now. On the left page is an ad for the movie saying how great it is and that people should go and see it. On the right page is a review saying it's crap and should be avoided.

    Well, if you believed in journalistic integrity, things like that would happen...

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 3:51pm

    Did you know being quoted positively in those movie review print ads often requires nothing more than a detectable pulse? The founding attorney in the law firm I work for once made a positive comment to a movie producer he met at a cocktail party. At Oscar time, the comment ended up being printed in an LA Times full-page advertisement.

    Even though nobody asked his permission before they quoted him in the ad, he thought it was funny, especially because he admitted he was only being polite - he really thought the movie sucked, but he didn't want to insult the guy.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    TW Burger, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 3:55pm

    Kudos to Variety

    Too many review magazines (car, sporting goods, electronics) are dependent upon advertising from the manufacturers of the products they are writing articles about. This often results in very 'soft' critiques where glaring flaws are described with euphemisms. It's nice to see integrity - especially in Hollywood.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anony1, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 3:58pm

    "when you do a deal for a purpose, you're not going to purposely do something to screw the other party from obtaining the purpose"

    @L: Can't see how this would apply to SUBJECTIVE reviews. Reviews by their nature are subjective.
    It's isn't "purposefully screwing someone over" to give your opinion, but then again, that's just my opinion.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 4:01pm

    This is a problem for some of the major game review websites, much of the advertising on the website is of the games they review, pressuring them to give a higher rating than they would had it been unbiased.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Dan, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Re:

    "They completely destroyed the campaign that they sold us."

    I don't know Mike. This cuts both ways. If Variety is really marketing their rag as a vehicle to promote a product to increase revenue, to then give a bad review is disingenuous.

    This all depends on how they are marketing themselves.

     

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  10.  
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    jdub (profile), Mar 15th, 2010 @ 4:24pm

    I have to disagree with you on this one Mike. This goes against the advertisement is content, and content is advertisment mantra. This is definitley a conflict of interest, you can't sell advertisements promoting a movie for people to go see it, and then on the next page bash it into the ground with negative reviews, telling people not to go see it. You affectively ruined all the advertisement that was paid for by your client. Which is why he is mad, and I believe rightly so. (As he stated in the post, he's not mad over the review but just the TIMING of it)

    I do agree the reviews need to be impartial, but I can't see that happening in a magazine when there selling movie advertisements to clients in hopes of getting more people into the seats, and then posting negative reviews of the movies. It's like saying "Go see this movie, but don't go see this movie" Which one would you choose after seeing the ad, and review all in the same magazine. I would think the review would probably leave a more lasting impression then any ad running in it.

    just my 2 cents

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 4:47pm

    Re:

    "I do agree the reviews need to be impartial, but I can't see that happening in a magazine when there selling movie advertisements to clients in hopes of getting more people into the seats, and then posting negative reviews of the movies."

    Err, I don't see how that somehow makes the review impartial. If anything, it makes it even MORE impartial.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    dcl, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 5:21pm

    Consumer Reports has no outside ads

    Consumer Reports has no outside ads they do that because having ads would make it harder for them to be impartial. Consumer Digest has ads… somebody should compare/contrast the two.

    I stopped reading Road & Track because they never had a bad review of an American Car (their biggest advertiser) when I drove those some of those same cars and thought they were junk.

    There is no doubt in my mind that advertising biases a publication. There are three good tests of an person or organizations’ integrity.

    1. Their actions when they think nobody is looking
    2. Their actions when peer/group pressure is against their values
    3. Their actions when there is a lot of money or power on the line.

    My $0.02.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 5:47pm

    Re:

    Well, in that case they probably quoted him because he was the only person who said anything nice at all. Everyone else must have been honest and said it sucked.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 5:59pm

    I've seen this plenty of times in newspapers. Big fat add for the next great movie and bad review too. Unless the theaters are paying for the ads, it seems the same.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 6:05pm

    I meant "ad" Whoops.

    I guess we'll find out if she sucks as a lawyer too.

     

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  16.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 15th, 2010 @ 6:07pm

    Re:

    This goes against the advertisement is content, and content is advertisment mantra.

    No, it doesn't. Not at all. If part of "advertising is content/content is advertising" means compromising your journalistic integrity, then you're doing it wrong. Doing that destroys every bit of your reputation, which is a key scarcity.

    The point of advertising is content/content is advertising is to create content that is NOT misleading at all, but which people want to see. Creating bogus ads and suppressing honest reviews goes against every aspect of that.

    his is definitley a conflict of interest, you can't sell advertisements promoting a movie for people to go see it, and then on the next page bash it into the ground with negative reviews, telling people not to go see it.

    Happens all the time in newspapers and magazines -- *because* editorial is kept separate from the ad sales people.

    I do agree the reviews need to be impartial, but I can't see that happening in a magazine when there selling movie advertisements to clients in hopes of getting more people into the seats, and then posting negative reviews of the movies. It's like saying "Go see this movie, but don't go see this movie" Which one would you choose after seeing the ad, and review all in the same magazine. I would think the review would probably leave a more lasting impression then any ad running in it.

    If no publication did honest reporting on its own advertisers the world would be a pretty glum place. You'd just have the worst actors buy advertising from all the top publications to ensure no investigation of their actions.

     

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  17.  
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    PaulT (profile), Mar 16th, 2010 @ 2:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "If Variety is really marketing their rag as a vehicle to promote a product to increase revenue, to then give a bad review is disingenuous."

    Not at all. All they are doing is providing two services - promotion and reviews. One services the producers, the other services the audience. Some people will still go and see a movie despite bad reviews (and in all honesty, some of the most successful movies in history have gotten *terrible* reviews), while word of mouth will usually kill a movie - especially an independent - quicker than a review from a single source.

    In fact, gaining a reputation to giving shill positive reviews to terrible movies could kill Variety's business faster than a few pissed off independent producers... Chalk one up for journalistic integrity - just because you can buy an advertisement, that doesn't mean you can buy your reviews. This is as it should be - want good reviews? Make good movies.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2010 @ 8:27am

    Re: Re:

    Happens all the time in newspapers and magazines -- *because* editorial is kept separate from the ad sales people. Exactly, and this is where the mantra falls down ands runs into problems. If the review(content) wasn't advertising the movie, then all would be fine, but it is, and it directly impacts the worth of the ads that the client paid to have them promote the movie for him. Unless he got a really good deal, those ads are essentially worthless now. If no publication did honest reporting on its own advertisers the world would be a pretty glum place. You'd just have the worst actors buy advertising from all the top publications to ensure no investigation of their actions. I dont disagree with you there, but if you want people to believe that advertisement is content/content is advertisement then they cant compete with one another in the same space, especially if people are paying money for one or the other.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    jman, Mar 16th, 2010 @ 9:51am

    Pull the ad

    He should just pull the ad, maybe get his money back for the ad. Beyond that he has no ground to stand on.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 16th, 2010 @ 11:16am

    Re: Consumer Reports has no outside ads

    "There is no doubt in my mind that advertising biases a publication."

    I agree. In fact, I the ads that any given media carries, be it print, TV, radio, internet, whatever, is one of the major factors influencing my opinion of the media outlet, for precisely this reason. There are quite a number of outlets I disregard because of who advertises with them.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anony1, Mar 16th, 2010 @ 11:47am

    As he stated in the post, he's not mad over the review but just the TIMING of it)


    You take this person's word at face value because? Ignorance is truely bliss...

     

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