Judge: Netflix Caption Suit Can Go Forward22 Jun, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey
A federal judge June 19 allowed a lawsuit that would require Netflix to include closed captioning on all its Watch Instantly content to move forward, denying Netflix’s request for dismissal of the case.
First filed in mid-2011, the case, filed by the National Association of the Deaf, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and deaf individual Lee Nettles, accuses Netflix of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, by not including closed captioning for all streaming content.
Netflix had argued that the ADA only applies to physical places and shouldn’t apply to a Web-only business. A U.S. District Court of Massachusetts judge disagreed, writing in his decision that “the legislative history of the ADA makes clear that Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology.”
“Under defendant’s reading of the statute, many businesses that provide services to a customer’s home — such as plumbers, pizza delivery services, or moving companies — would be exempt from the ADA,” the ruling reads.
Netflix had also argued that the case should be dismissed since it does not own copyrights to the programming and could not be forced to provide closed captioning, but the judge ruled that Netflix does operate a “place of public accommodation,” bringing it under the rules of the ADA.
“By recognizing that websites are covered by the ADA, the court has ensured that the ADA stays relevant as much of our society moves from Main Street to the Internet,” said Arlene Mayerson, attorney for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. “Netflix's argument that the neighborhood video store is covered by the ADA, but it, with its over 20 million subscribers, is not, was soundly rejected by the court.”
In a statement Netflix said it has always worked to ensure its content is accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.
“More than 80% of the hours streamed in the U.S. are movies and TV shows with captions or subtitles available,” the company said. “We have committed to providing captions wherever we can procure them from the content owner, and we have an active program to author subtitles for significant content where they are not already available.”
Netflix does offer a list at movies.netflix.com/subtitles of more than 4,000 TV shows and movies that include subtitles, and the company noted that more than 80% of its streamed content includes captions or subtitles.
Netflix argues that Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations already require most online-delivered video content to require captions by March 2013, and it’s working toward that goal.
“The framework that the FCC has established is an important part of ensuring captioned or subtitled content can be most efficiently provided,” Netflix said in a statement. “We believe the FCC regulations provide the most comprehensive and appropriate guidance to businesses on captioning.”