Major film studios recently filed court papers asking a judge to reject a putative class action that blames them for children becoming addicted to nicotine. Their trade association and theater owners don’t want to be held hostage to any misguided morality play — not one that seeks to force them not to have any movies with tobacco imagery rated G, PG, or PG-13.
The lawsuit was filed against the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the National Association of Theatre Owners, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. and alleges the industry’s film-ratings practices amount to negligence, misrepresentation, and breach of duty.
The litigation addresses a ratings system that came about in the 1960s, when MPAA’s then-president, Jack Valenti, aimed to take Hollywood from an era of morality codes to self-regulation. MPAA flagged such films as Dumb and Dumber To, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Iron Man 3 as among those featuring tobacco-related imagery that are being recommended for young audiences.
The Hollywood defendants aim to strike down the lawsuit they see as an impingement of their First Amendment-protected rights on a matter of public interest. According to the court papers filed by the defendants, the lawsuit “is a misguided attempt to upend basic tort principles and core First Amendment protections to force the Classification and Rating Administration (“CARA”) — the movie ratings body that MPAA and NATO jointly operate — to change the opinions it expresses through its movie ratings system.”
“Plaintiff alleges that he purchased tickets for his children to see 10 PG-13 rated movies over the course of four years that contained tobacco imagery, including two movies in the Hobbit trilogy,” they state in the brief. “Clearly, Plaintiff was not relying on the PG-13 rating as representing the absence of tobacco imagery after even one movie, much less 10.”