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ADA May Force Netflix To Provide Closed Captioning On Content 694

Shivetya writes "Last year Netflix was sued by the National Association for the Deaf for failing to provide closed captioned text through its on-demand streaming service. Now, a judge has denied Netflix's attempt to have the suit thrown out, saying that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in any venue — not just physical structures. The easiest means to comply would be to remove all videos which do not have a closed captioning component, the other route would require Netflix to pay to have this done to any video it wants to provide. The implications to other providers is immense as well. The plaintiffs will still need to prove that Netflix is legally obligated to provide closed-captioning, but the ruling is still significant for recognizing that Internet sites may fall under the purview of the Americans with Disabilities Act."
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ADA May Force Netflix To Provide Closed Captioning On Content

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:07PM (#40460667)

    Used to have a deaf roommate who was big into "deaf culture" (and was very annoying about it). We're talking Malcolm X militant about it. He wasn't alone either. There are a lot of people into deaf rights who think it should be illegal to air or play anything non-CC'ed. And they *will* sue.

    Great for them, not so great for the rest of us who get cut off from all non-CC'ed content. And getting something CC'ed is pretty expensive--prohibitively so for a lot of indies.

  • Serious question: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:09PM (#40460687)
    What if Netflix doesn't consider the deaf to be its target audience and specifically indicates this fact? Why can a private service which requires people to pay before viewing content be forced to accommodate people who may not be their target market?

    By this same token, a duochrome-colorblind person can petition for color-adjusted films. A blind person can request a specific voice feed that describes the actions of the characters in a film, and so forth. Why not just let some other service create closed captions for deaf viewers to subscribe to?
  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:13PM (#40460729)

    Some channels actually have "descriptive audio" here. It's actually exactly what it sounds like. A voice describes what is happening, overlaid onto the audio. Once in a while I'll turn it on and try watching something with my eyes closed.. surprisingly for stuff that's heavily dialog driven, it works surprisingly well.

  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:15PM (#40460745)

    Knowing the fucked up way media licensing works, they probably have to license the subtitle data seperately or something (see also: theme music).

  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Woldscum ( 1267136 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:25PM (#40460867)

    I am blind in one eye from childhood. I can not see anything in 3D. If a movie theater shows a 3D move must they also provide the same movie in 2D?

  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:46PM (#40461097)

    I'm half deaf and only watch videos on Netflix with closed captioning, but I'm on Netflix's side on this one. They provide no essential services, not even news or weather, and the only educational stuff tends to already have CC anyway. What's next, all porn is required to have CC?

  • Re:Serious question: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trecares ( 416205 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @08:58PM (#40461241)

    Because just like broadcast television, they are sufficiently large enough to cover the costs associated with captioning the content. Netflix does have some content that is captioned on their streaming service, but frankly it's mostly a joke.

    I am not sure what their process involves in acquiring the visual content that they stream. Netflix seem to have no difficulty in acquiring the audio tracks to stream along with the visual content. If Netflix is getting the content from the DVD's or whatever, it should be trivial enough to rip the subtitle / closed captioning tracks already present, sync it up and stream it as well. The physical DVD is captioned, yet the stream isn't. Netflix, along with a number of other content providers are basically saying, "Meh it's not worth our time to deal with it, so tough luck." Technically it should be trivial enough to do this but they are not. That's when the government usually has to step in. It's not so much a matter of preserving their profit, but doing the right thing and providing accessibility. Otherwise it's essentially tyranny of the majority.

    The main reason why this lawsuit is necessary is because many online streaming services are essentially doing nothing or a very poor job of providing captioned content. Hulu for example, has a limited selection of captioned content within their catalog. This would not be so bad if they were more conscientious about monitoring their content. Sometimes they do not caption a given episode out of a captioned series. Apparently they have to "receive" it from the content provider. They do not check to ensure that the file has been received each time and that it plays properly. I've had missing captioning, captioning that was out of sync, content that indicated it was captioned, but no captioning, content that does not indicate captioning, but had captioning. If this had been happening with a broadcast television station, they would have been hit with a bunch of fines. That's why broadcast stations have someone monitoring it to ensure quality and delivery of captioned content.

    Back to the point, streaming services are becoming more widespread, their catalog is expanding. They need to develop a scheme that simplifies handling and streaming of content such that captioning is automatically included and present from the content provider. That would ease the burden on Netflix, Hulu, and others. Netflix is the ideal target because they have one of the largest catalog of streaming content, and most of them were already captioned previously. In doing so, Netflix would have to sit down with the content providers and figure out a solution.

    Clearly not all content would feasibly be captioned. No reasonable court would enforce captioning on "private" or indie content unless aired over broadcast/cable. The burden on captioning needs to be shifted to the content creators. There are already standards that determines what content must be captioned and anything below that is at their discretion. It won't be easy I admit, but this needs to happen, and the sooner, the better.

  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @09:11PM (#40461377) Homepage
    Probably, I recall a case not too long ago where the MAFFIAA was suing a website for providing CC for AVI (as well as translations) files (not even the files themselves!) Sorry cannot find the link currently, I recall seeing it here on slashdot though
  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @09:30PM (#40461527) Journal []

    (Not joking).
  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:1, Interesting)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @09:48PM (#40461753)
    "On the other hand that's part of living in a civilized society."

    I tend toward libertarianism, and think the free market should decide. If there's a market willing to pay for captioned content, it will be met. If not, sorry about your luck, maybe you should start a business which caters to that want.

    Having said that, if the government (representing the people as a whole) wants to require this, then the cost should also be born by the taxpayer. It's always easy to vote for something which other people have to pay for.
  • Re:Serious question: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Tuesday June 26, 2012 @09:51PM (#40461767) Homepage Journal
    A small private service can select a targat audience. A large corporation, of in the case of netflix a corporation controlled by public stock, much less so. As part of being in America, and profiting off the infrastructure paid for by the american taxpayer, there are some sacrifices to make. I suspect that Netflix would not survive long without a legal system that allowed it the right to rent legally purchased videos, or a postal system that provided the distribution network, or the labor laws that allow low wages.

    So, in a way, every taxpayer is a customer because every tax payer has helped build the infrastructure that allows a large corporation to exist. Hell, every one in the US pays a tax on their phone so rural people can have cheap communication. Tell me Netflix could be this big without such a tax.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.