James Bond is best known for the cars, the adventures, the spy gadgets, and the villains he (generally) defeats by the end of the movie. And, like most big-screen heroes, James Bond is only as good as the unique adversaries, from men with golden guns to odd fellows, he faces in the 26 24 all the franchise’s movies. One particular adversary however, Mary Johnson, a self-described Bond fan, may be James Bond’s biggest rival to date.
In April, Johnson filed a class action suit in Washington State against several entertainment companies that own the rights to the James Bond franchise, including MGM Holdings, Inc. and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Johnson claims that she and other members of the class purchased two James Bond DVD boxed sets that promise: “[ALL] the Bond films gathered together for the first time in this one-of-a-kind boxed set – every gorgeous girl, nefarious villain and charismatic star from Sean Connery, the legendary actor who started it all, to Daniel Craig.” (Emphasis Added). The problem is that the sets don’t include 1967s Casino Royale or 1983s Never Say Never Again films. Some Bond connoisseurs would argue that the two excluded films are not part of the franchise because Casino Royale was a spoof produced by a different movie studio and Never Say Never Again was the result of a complicated rights dispute between MGM and the movie’s writer, Kevin McClory. Nevertheless Johnson claims, the fact that the box sets don’t include literally “all” of the franchise’s movies, the use of the word is deceptive and therefore constitutes a violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act. Johnson seeks class certification, an award of damages, including punitive damages, and court costs and attorneys’ fees.
The studios filed a motion to dismiss where they argued that “no reasonable consumer would expect that a box set would contain films that are not included on the list of titles clearly printed on its packaging.” In a pun-filled order, Chief U.S. District Court Judge, Ricardo Martinez, dismissed some of Johnson’s claims while letting other claims stand. “At this time, the Court will ‘Live and Let Die,'” Martinez wrote. Notably, Martinez allowed Johnson’s claim, that the boxed-sets’ marketing violates consumer protection laws, to move forward. Part of the order asserts that “the Court must leave it to the jury to determine whether the box-sets’ representations establish an affirmation of fact or promise of a complete compilation of James Bond movies.” The order further asserts that “a jury must determine whether a reasonable person would expect [the 1967] ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Never Say Never Again’ to be included in a complete set of James Bond films.” The rest of the order deals with whether the parent companies properly belong in the suit and whether the case is ripe for class action.
Johnson’s false advertising claims may not have the same devastating effects as Goldeneye’s electro-magnetic orbital weapon with which Alec Trevelyan planned to steal money from the Bank of England. But the lesson of the case is that “all” may not always mean “all” to the reasonable consumer but there is some risk in using that word even when it is arguably literally true. The line between mere puffery and deception remains, at best, blurred.