Popular Internet video streaming service Netflix could be forced to offer closed captions on its videos soon, thanks to the lobbying of several deaf advocacy groups.
The National Association for the Deaf filed a lawsuit against Netflix, saying that its negligence in providing closed captions for potentially deaf users could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, reports Newser. Though Netflix does offer captions on some of its content, the majority of their online videos do not have that option. Netflix has asked the judge to throw out the suit, saying that the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply to online content, but the judge decided to allow the suit to continue. Technically nothing has happened yet, but the judge’s allowance of the suit signifies a win for the National Association for the Deaf: Netflix has at least lost the first round.
The history of the 1990 law stipulates that it “makes clear that Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology,” said the judge ruling on the case. “In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online,” he said, the law’s goal of equal access wouldn’t be met by “excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet.”
“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, a lawyer for the plaintiffs hailing from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley.
Netflix might lose completely, as the suit has some sort of precedent. A 1996 federal law required closed-captioning for television programs, but of course didn’t address online content (since it largely didn’t exist at that time). In addition,Federal Communication Commission regulations will require captioning of United States-produced Internet videos by 2014, notes the San Francisco Chronicle.
We’ll track the story and report more as it develops.