Class Action Lawsuit Demands Closed Captioning for Song Lyrics in TV & Film

October 23, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: June 3, 2019

Nine plaintiffs filed suit against several Hollywood studios for omitting captions for songs used in films and TV shows. Defendants include Netflix, Sony, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros.

The plaintiffs constitute deaf advocates and individuals from coast to coast, each one citing specific movies by the Hollywood production companies which had incomplete captioning for music.

Songs in movie scores can provide an essential atmosphere, mood, and significance. The plaintiffs’ attorney John A. Girardi argued that without captions for song lyrics, “such movie or show products were of lesser value to Plaintiffs and class members, than to persons without hearing loss.”

He reasoned that this difference in viewing experience constitutes a breach of civil rights for people with disabilities, who are promised equal access and accommodations for an equivalent experience according to accessibility law.

Under FCC regulations, all films and television shows distributed on DVD or on television must adhere to strict closed captioning rules. One of the FCC’s caption quality standards covers program completeness, meaning all content that should be captioned must be properly captioned.

The complaint notes that “while the dialogue of some movies or shows are indeed fully subtitled, the practice of not subtitling song/music lyrics is frustratingly widespread.”

One concern the studios have about captioning song lyrics is copyright infringement. Media producers must secure rights to reproduce song lyrics in captions. One copyright lawsuit in the 1990s against Disney may have them spooked.

In addition to disability discrimination, the plaintiffs accuse the defendants of false advertising, reasoning that the closed captioning label is invalid if song lyrics aren’t fully captioned. They demand unspecified damages and accurate content labeling if captions are incomplete.

Read the full complaint here:

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