Judge Allows Closed-Captioning Lawsuit Against Netflix To Proceed

Netflix recently asked a court to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the National Association for the Deaf that alleges the company violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by not including closed-captioning on many of its streaming videos. But earlier this week, the judge in the case ruled against Netflix, allowing the suit to move forward.

Netflix had argued that the while the ADA requires stores to make reasonable accommodation, streaming video was not covered by that same umbrella.

But the U.S. District Court judge in the case disagreed, saying the ADA was intended to prevent discriminating against the disabled everywhere.

According to the judge, “In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online,” the ADA would only be compromised by “excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet.”

While the judge’s ruling allows the suit to continue forward, it does not answer the question of whether or not Netflix, which does have captioning on some titles, violated the ADA by not having the captions on most or all of its streaming offerings.

Federal law currently requires captions for TV programs, but that law was written in 1996 when the notion of streaming a full movie in HD was a pipe dream.

The FCC has given a deadline of March 2014 for online video companies to place captions on all U.S.-produced content made after the 1996 law was enacted.

In his ruling, the judge said the FCC deadline “reflects only minimum compliance standards,” over which the ADA could take priority.

Netflix may have to provide closed captions online [SFgate.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. josephbloseph says:

    Hmm, I don’t think my roku players support captions on netflix anyway.

  2. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    Wait …

    “The FCC has given a deadline of March 2014 for online video companies to place captions on all U.S.-produced content made after the 1996 law was enacted. “

    So online video companies have two more years to get subtitles on their online content … but are allowed to be sued now?

    I’m a bit baffled.

  3. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I wonder if Netflix will just pull the more obscure streaming titles than bother with producing subtitles.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      Presumably the subtitles are on the DVD versions and won’t require a new set to be produced.

      • Actionable Mango says:

        Many of the obscure titles are so obscure they never made it to DVD in the first place.

  4. travisd1000 says:

    OK, so who else couldn’t help but read the “In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online,” in the “overly dramatic movie trailer” voice?

  5. Jayrandom says:

    Can’t they use machine transcription to caption all these movies without too much expense? It would be better than nothing.

    • themsnumbers says:

      Have you even tried the thing that Youtube has? It’s horrible and useless.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Oh, god… it is horrible I used it to transcribe an interview during the Euro soccer and it included phrases such as “my senator from Italy”, “Dominoes”, “online detonating”, “judge howard” and “stunt double time”.

        Fortunately, it’s still in beta.

        Even subtitles by real live humans can be pretty bad. Watch closed captioning during a sporting event. I’m convinced the people at the keyboard have no idea what the announcers are talking about.

  6. scoutermac says:

    I guess this makes sense. My thoughts are that Netflix simply over looked this and will likely add closed captioning now. Just not sure how long it will take them considering how much content they have.

    • hymie! says:

      Netflix has not “simply overlooked” this. Closed captioning has been a major sore point for Netflix streaming movie customers for quite some time.

      • guspaz says:

        In December 2011, Netflix had captions or subtitles for 80% of their content (by aggregate length). In a blog post four months ago, they said they expect the last 20% to go more slowly since at this point since they’re doing this in order or popularity, and they’re getting to the least watched things now.

        I realize that subtitles are not descriptive like closed captions, but they *are* making a reasonable effort here…

    • RandomHookup says:

      There’s an expense to doing it and they were hoping that the filmmakers would provide it.

  7. crister says:

    Now, if only Netflix would offer descriptive video streaming for the blind and visually impaired…

  8. ldillon says:

    If Nexflix is just blocking closed-captioning that already exists, it should provide it. However, if the National Association for the Deaf thinks that Netflix should add closed-caption to titles where none exists, and incur that expense, the National Association for the Deaf is over-reaching.

  9. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    So…YouTube is next I guess?

    • Mr. Spy says:

      Funny enough, YouTube has a translator on all it’s videos. It’s really bad, but it does in fact work… most of the time.

    • MrEvil says:

      I think YouTube will get a pass since their content is all user uploaded. Netflix is different because their content has been captioned at some point. Nobody is going to expect Cleetus uploading his stupid redneck stunts to caption all of them.

  10. bnceo says:

    I would gather that most of the titles on Netflix that are already on DVD have captions, so the addition shouldn’t be that hard for those titles. But my question is, what about TV shows that are given to Netflix without them? Does Netflix have to make up their own or pay the content provider to make them?

    All in all, it’s in Netflix’s best interest to get captions on the content. They get another set of customers.

  11. Sarek says:

    So how come nobody sues AMC? The captioning on their original series is *horrid*. If a spoken line is captioned at all, maybe half of it appears. Sometimes only 3 letters. One episode of Rubicon had absolutely no captioning at all.

    • KyBash says:

      That might be an issue with your signal. When I had DirecTV, the captioning on two channels was always screwed up. Now that I’m on cable, there are four channels, and they aren’t the same ones.

      On one analog channel, if the signal goes: cable, cable box, tv, the captioning is completely nonexistent. If it goes: cable, tv, the captioning is scrambled. If it’s: cable, DVR, tv, then it’s perfect.

    • Zerkaboid says:

      Definitely a signal/TV issue. I’ve seen things like this happen and it’s never been an issue with the source. If they’re providing captions they’re not going to half ass it like that, these end up as subtitles on the DVDs eventually which are always good.

    • Sarek says:

      I have TWC cable and use their DVR. So it’s cable->DVR->TV.

      Note that I watch the shows from the DVR, not “live.” You’ve just given me something to test.

    • shthar says:

      Somebody has to actually watch the show before there can be any complaints.

  12. themsnumbers says:

    Related reminder that as nice as Netflix is to say “deaf people can enjoy many of the things on our site,” HBO Go and Amazon are firm NO DEAF ALLOWED zones, where there is no captioning on any of the content on their sites.

    • kateydidnt says:

      Yeah, the Amazon one drives me insane–I’ve contacted their service department about it a number of times. They don’t have captioning on streaming or Instant Video. I am not hard of hearing but I turn on captions anyway on everything because people at my house are so noisy its just easier.

  13. wastedlife says:

    Why is this lawsuit only against Netflix? As I understand it, most of the streaming services do not yet have complete captions or any at all in many cases.

  14. kenboy says:

    Good. With noisy kids and other distractions, I watch almost everything with captions, even though my hearing is fine. Drives me nuts when I constantly have to rewind what I’m watching to try to catch a line.

  15. kateydidnt says:

    Actually, Netflix has been making a good effort to get captioning-there are many programs and movies available with captioning now, but the one that annoys me is that Amazon has NO captions except on foreign language subtitled. It drives me crazy. Every time I ask Amazon about it I get a standard reply of “We’re working on it”.

  16. DJSeanMac says:

    How does this affect things like RedBox DVDs, where the studios disable the captioning on rental product as a means of pushing the retail version?

  17. augiet65 says:

    I have moderate hearing loss in one ear and I have no hearing in my other ear. I use the captioning all the time on TV and on Netflix. Does it annoy me when a movie or a show does not have captioning, Yes, would I like to have all the shows/movies with subtitles, Yes. Do I think that it is reasonable to have everything with subtitles, No. The reason why is that I watch anime that does not even have subtitles on the DVD’s that I own, so how can I expect Netflix, or even Hulu, to have subtitles for everything they stream. I am just happy that they have almost all the shows that I like with subtitles.

  18. Lucky225 says:

    Wasn’t this already decided?

    Section 508 is a relevant statute concerning availability of resources for those affected by the ADA. Note that it covers federal agencies in the U.S., but not does regulate personally owned web sites, which this is. This was further upheld by U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz who ruled that ADA provisions only apply to physical space, not the Internet.

  19. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I do hope the monetary loss isn’y huge – this is, after all, novel legal territory and Netflix didn’t have a lot of guidance.

  20. Actionable Mango says:

    Netflix isn’t a content creator. They have updated their service to stream captions WHEN CAPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE. They cannot send what does not exist. So what happens to all those obscure titles that have no captions? Pull them from the catalog so that nobody will be able to see them?

    If the ADA applies, it should be applied to the content creators, not the guys just doing delivery. Netflix has already done their part by ensuring their delivery system is compatible with captions.

    • damicatz says:

      It’s more profitable to go after a single entity rather than trying to track down the content creators.

      The ADA is not about helping the disabled, it’s about giving shysters more excuses to sue people.

  21. gman863 says:

    Closed captioning is normally done as part of the production of a TV or movie. Once the final product has been edited, a person watches the movie and types in the dialouge as it is said.

    On live TV, closed captioning may be either an electronic feed of the teleprompter (news) or smebedy tpyingg whille the prson is talkng;; tryin to ketch up (spelling is correct, based on most live closed captions).

    In either case, the insertion of closed captioning should rest with the content provider, not the service streaming it. Those of us with normal hearing shouldn’t be punished by having titles pulled off Netflix when the discrimination fault lies with the movie studio.

  22. deadandy says:

    There seems to be some confusion about whether the barrier is content-based or technology-based. I assure you it’s the latter. The availability of subtitle text is not the issue at all. Virtually all digitized films have subtitle text directly from the production house. For those that don’t, there are open-source subtitle databases that catalog English-language (and many other language) subtitles for 1.7 million+ films.

  23. BadBart says:

    Maybe this will push Netflix to enable captions on the TiVo client. Or TiVo, I can’t ever get either company to admit that they own the problem.

  24. Mark702 says:

    The ADA is bullshit. See Penn and Teller explain it on Bullshit! season 5 episode 7.

  25. FrankM says:

    Captions also seem to be absent on digital copies of movies that come in combo packs.

    Bluray – captioned
    DVD — captioned
    digital — nothing!

    The digital version is ideal to load on an iPad and watch in a noisy plane, but without the captions, you are better off with a DVDrip. At that point, why encode it yourself? You download it “illegally”.

    Once again piracy exists because the content owner left a void in the marketplace.

  26. Tfisher says:

    I watch Netflix with captions on 90% of the time, I’ve yet to come across a show that does’t have CC option. (Though I watch TV shows, not movies though.) I’m more concerned about the quality of the captions- some shows have great accurate captions, others are all over the place with mere guesses at the phrases and scenes behind.

    • Cacao says:

      Too true. One “Mad Men” example that sticks in my mind is when Bets and Don went to see the musical ‘Fiorello’, the caption wrote ‘Theorello’. WTF? Really?

      It sounds like the captioners listen to the audio but don’t do any background research.

      I’ve also seen TV shows where the caption sounds like how the script that was written but the actors improvise their dialogue.

  27. damicatz says:

    You can’t just snap your fingers and magically make subtitles appear. People have to be paid to sit and watch the videos and transcribe them. It is a slow process, it costs money and it takes time. Even without the shysters and the lawsuits, Netflix has already been working on subtitles, on their own accord.

    Why should deaf people be the only ones that get special treatment? There are hundreds if not thousands of types of disabilities that people can have and there are a lot that would be affected by the way Netflix offers its sevice.

    Perhaps we should require Netflix to translate their video into every language with more than 5000 speakers, to help the disadvantaged people who don’t know English. And while we are at it, why don’t we force Netflix to record voiceovers for every video describing the scene for the blind. Let’s also add options to replace spiders in videos with teddy bears for those who have arachnophobia. Don’t forget all of the other disabilities; let’s make a deflashifier so that epileptics don’t have seizures, let’s make a darkening feature for those who are photosensitive.

    What’s next? Suing the guy who uploaded a Youtube video because he didn’t transcribe it? And just how much is this going to cost me and the other Netflix customers?

    There is no “right to have subtitles on a video”. Netflix is a private company and anyone that doesn’t like the fact that they don’t have subtitles on all videos is free to exercise their right not to do business with Netflix.

    I’d also like to know how much the shysters stand to make off of this. Like most ADA lawsuits, it is more about making money through legalized extortion than it is about actually improving things for the disabled.

    • BadBart says:

      Whether or not this right is encoded in the ADA is exactly what this lawsuit is about. The ADA specifically applies to private businesses to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not shunted aside because it is inconvenient for businesses to accommodate them.

  28. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I thought the content makers had to do this.

  29. shthar says:

    Just to answer you clowns.

    No, subtitles aren’t on most DVDs.

  30. mrbucket says:

    The way I see it, Netflix should do the following:
    * Shut off all streaming videos that do not provide captioning.

    There’ll be massive blowback, ire from subscribers, and most likely a bunch of hearing impaired folks griping about the lack of selection… but I’m thinking NAD might just re-assess their need to sue as a result. Netflix shouldn’t be sued because they haven’t gotten around to adding captions to their massive collection of films. Whats next, a suit from the Muslim Brotherhood because the captions aren’t available in Arabic? This is opportunistic garbage and nothing more than NAD trying to garner attention for itself on the back of Netflix.

    They’ve been adding captions for a while now, and most likely the titles which get captions first are the ones that are the most popular. Not to mention, where exactly does the ADA or FCC get off telling a content provider how they should provide their content?! That’s a rant for another day though. :)