Experts Say This Recent Disney+ Lawsuit Could Be Game Changing
Disney is no stranger to controversy, so it is no surprise that the media giant regularly gets sued. However, a recent lawsuit might end up being far more impactful than others. A new lawsuit announced on Thursday is generating a lot of interest because it could change the way streaming works.
Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney
This big Hollywood lawsuit comes directly from Scarlett Johansson. On Thursday, the Marvel actress sued Disney due to the way they handled the recent Black Widow release. Johansson is suing Disney due to the fact that Black Widow was released on Disney+ simultaneously with its theatrical release.
Why is this release style such a problem for the actress? Due to the way her contract is set up, she gets paid based on how much money the movie makes at the box office. Meanwhile, Disney has chosen to allow Disney+ subscribers to pay a premium to view the movie. This essentially means that Disney still gets plenty of profit from the movie, but less people are paying to see it in theaters. Therefore, Johansson's cut of the profits is vastly reduced.
Johansson's lawsuit alleges that Disney essentially breached her contract and committed fraud against her. The contract said that Disney would agree to a wide theatrical release for the movie, which they technically did. However, they did not exclusively release the movie in theaters, despite their contract wording typically being used for exclusive theatrical releases. Therefore, Johansson is suing for damages, which would most likely take the form of some of the Disney+ streaming profits.
Lawyers Caution That Johansson Might Lose the Suit
In a field where streaming is causing more and more losses for actors, Johansson's lawsuit has been met with a lot of approval from fellow actors. However, though many people are pleased to hear about the lawsuit, others are cautious about its chances for success. It turns out that the lawsuit is a little complicated.
Like other big movie contracts, Johansson's contract states that she will agree to arbitration for contract disputes instead of suing. Her lawyer is attempting to get around this clause by suing Disney for making its subsidiary, Marvel, breach the contract. Essentially, this means Johansson is trying to sue for the unethical behavior that caused the breach, not the breach itself. This strategy has been successful in the past, but it is still possible the court could throw out the lawsuit and require Johansson to go to an arbitration behind closed doors instead.
Furthermore, contract law does allow for some breaches in cases where unforeseen events justify a change. The COVID 19 pandemic has been a major disruption. All around the world, it has become a legally valid reason to not meet certain contract requirements. Therefore, Disney may be able to argue that their decision to release the movie on Disney+ was justified due to the pandemic.
Johansson's Lawsuit Calls Attention to a Major Problem With Streaming
This lawsuit is getting so much press because it highlights a problem that more and more actors are dealing with. It is fairly common for actors to accept a job and get paid with a percentage of the box office for the movie. However, some companies to shift to streaming releases for their movies.
Unfortunately, this change can end up impacting actors greatly. Those who negotiate a certain percentage of box office funds can end up without payment if the movie's creators decide to release it on a streaming service. As Johansson's case shows, even if an actor specifically negotiates a theatrical release, a streaming release at the same time can end up cutting into the actor's paycheck.
How This Lawsuit Could Affect Later Disney Films
Many hope that this lawsuit can stop predatory practices such as a surprise streaming release for a movie. If Johansson wins, the case could set a precedent for more lawsuits against film production companies. With COVID causing so many challenges to theatrical releases, there are plenty of other actors who are frustrated with streaming releases. Losing this one case could open Disney up to losing more similar suits.
Ultimately, even if Johansson loses this case, it can still have an impact on contract law. The lawsuit highlights the need for improved language in contracts. In many cases, standard contract language does not specify that studios need to avoid streaming the movie. However, the conflict between Johansson and Disney shows it is probably time to update these sorts of documents.
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