12:36pm PT by Matthew Belloni
Jesse Eisenberg Beats Lionsgate in Round One of 'Camp Hell' DVD Lawsuit (Exclusive)
A Los Angeles judge has tentatively sided with Jesse Eisenberg and is allowing the actor to pursue a lawsuit against Lionsgate for allegedly promoting his brief cameo in the horror flick Camp Hell as an above-the-title starring turn.
As we first reported in November, the Social Network and Zombieland star sued claiming $3 million in damages for being positioned as the lead actor in the film even though he performed for one day (and earned only about $3,000) as a favor to friends who were making the low-budget thriller about a demonic possession at a Christian camp. Eisenberg filmed his tiny role in 2007, well before his 2010 Oscar nomination for Social Network. The DVD released Aug. 9 featured Eisenberg's name in large letters above the title.
Eisenberg claimed false advertising and a violation of his right of publicity, saying the defendants' use of his name and photograph exploited him for financial gain.
Lionsgate and producer Grindstone Entertainment then responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing that the case should be dismissed as an infringment of free speech rights under California's broad law. (That's a typical strategy in movie-related cases.)
But in a detailed tentative ruling issued Tuesday and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz denies the anti-SLAPP motion, allowing Eisenberg's case to move forward because the "speech" in question is commercial in nature, which isn't protected under the California anti-SLAPP law. "The content of the materials was commercial, by virtue of proposing a commercial transaction, despite perhaps falsely leading the consumer to believe that [Eisenberg] is the star of the film," the ruling states. "The court thus finds that the speech at issue in this case constitutes commercial speech, which is not subject to protection under [the anti-SLAPP law]." (Tentative rulings are not final and must be confirmed by the court, but judges rarely overturn their tentative rulings after going into a detailed discussion of the law and the facts.)
The court also suggested that Eisenberg has a strong likelihood of prevailing on at least some of the claims in the case, though the judge is careful to say she is not making a determination of the credibility of the claims at this early stage.
We've reached out to Lionsgate for comment.
EIsenberg is repped by Marty Singer at Lavely & Singer. Lionsgate is repped by a team at Davis Wright Tremaine.