Federal Appeals Court Rules that ADA Does Not Apply to Netflix Captioning

April 7, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: January 4, 2018

A ruling by the United States federal appeals court last week concluded that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to Netflix.

The appeal responded to a 2011 class action lawsuit filed by Donald Cullen, a deaf Netflix viewer, who claimed that Netflix was breaking anti-discrimination law by failing to provide adequate closed captioning on its online streaming videos. The judge threw that lawsuit out, prompting an appeal. Three judges of the 9th Circuit court supported that decision, reasoning that because Netflix is “not connected to any actual, physical place,” it cannot be considered a place of public accommodation and therefore is not subject to the ADA.

The ruling on this case contradicts a 2010 lawsuit brought against Netflix by the National Association for the Deaf, which also claimed a breach of the ADA for lack of captioning online video. Netflix settled that case out of court, covering over $750K in legal fees for the NAD. Netflix also agreed to provide closed captioning on its video library by the end of 2014.

It’s important to note that the Cullen v. Netflix ruling is unpublished, meaning it is not intended to be considered legal precedent. This ruling comes on the heels of another lawsuit that concerns web accessibility and captioning of online video by Harvard and MIT.

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