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Lawsuit Claims MGM Shorts Consumers on Widescreen DVDs

17 Dec, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

A DVD consumer claims in a lawsuit that MGM and its home entertainment division are misrepresenting the format of some films on packaging by using the term “widescreen” for aspect ratios that don't fit the traditional definition.

Attorneys for Warren Eallonardo plan to seek class action status for the case, which would represent a broader segment of the DVD-consuming public if they succeed.

The case alleges that MGM, in providing the products, and retailers Amazon.com, Best Buy, Blockbuster Video, Columbia House and Target, in selling them, are short-changing consumers who expect to see more in a widescreen edition than they would of the same film in a pan-and-scan format.

Instead, the complaint alleges, MGM promotes some films as theatrical version widescreen when, in fact, they are cropped pan-and-scan versions that actually show less than even standard pan-and-scan.

“Contrary to MGM's claims, the MGM widescreen format DVDs do not display the entire image as originally displayed in theaters. The MGM widescreen DVD images are the same as standard format DVDs except that MGM cropped the top and bottom portion of the image, creating the black horizontal bars along the top and bottom of the image to mislead consumers that the image is the widescreen format,” the complaint alleges.

Titles cited in the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint include Hoosiers, A Fish Called Wanda, Back to School and The Package. MGM has misrepresented the appearance of those and perhaps other titles, Eallonardo contends, in advertising materials from liner notes to online promotional materials including images that explain the different formats. He discovered the discrepancy, according to the suit, by comparing the pan & scan and widescreen editions of the same films presented in both formats on opposite sides of the same discs.

The case extends to the retailers because they sold the discs while perpetuating what the plaintiff contends is false information.

Spokespersons for MGM Home Entertainment and Amazon.com declined immediate comment on the lawsuit.

A Best Buy spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation and a Blockbuster spokesman said the company had not yet been served with the complaint. Spokespersons for Columbia House and Target could not be immediately reached for comment.

The case alleges fraud, false advertising and unfair and deceptive business practices, and seeks a court order forcing MGM to change its practices as well as unspecified money damages. No hearing dates have been scheduled.

Many movies are shot in the square 1.33-to-1 aspect ratio. When presented in theaters, a matte is placed over the projector lens that crops off the top and bottom of the image, thus achieving a widescreen image.

Studios should be clearer about this fact, said Peter Bracke, editor of the Web site DVD File.

“Widescreen really means theatrical aspect ratio, it doesn't necessarily mean more [image],” he said. “It can be confusing for people.”

And in his comments about the case on the Web site, Bracke notes that MGM's packaging clearly labels the widescreen version as the “Theatrical Release Format.”Still, he doesn't understand “what horrible thing happened to (the plaintiff) by cropping them at the top and bottom.” Don't plaintiffs in cases like this have to demonstrate actual harm? And many MGM DVD releases include both the widescreen and unmatted versions on the same disc, so the plaintiff can get the all the picture information he wants simply by opting for the full frame version.

“I don't understand what mental anguish he suffered because of it,” Bracke said.(Additional reporting by Enrique Rivero)

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