Consumers Drop Video Privacy Case Against Hulu

A group of Web users have dropped their attempt to revive a lawsuit accusing Hulu of violating a federal video privacy law, court records show.

On Friday, lawyers for the consumers and for Hulu submitted a joint stipulation asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the appeal. The paperwork didn't indicate why the case was being dropped.

The move ends a dispute about whether Hulu violated the Video Privacy Protection Act by automatically transmitting information to Facebook via the "Like" button. Between April of 2010 and June of 2012, the widget was configured so that it sent titles of the videos that people watched to Facebook's server -- regardless of whether users clicked the button to indicate that they “liked” the clips.

The consumers argued that Facebook was able to piece together information about personally identifiable individuals' video-watching history by combining its cookie- based data with the information sent by Hulu.

Beeler rejected the Web users' arguments and awarded Hulu summary judgment on the grounds that it didn't realize that Facebook potentially could figure out video-watchers' identities.

“The user's identity and that of the video material were transmitted separately (albeit simultaneously),” she wrote. “By sending those two items Hulu did not thereby connect them in a manner akin to connecting Judge Bork to his video-rental history.”

The reference to Bork stems from the history of the video privacy law, which prohibits video providers from disclosing information about consumers' viewing history. Congress passed the measure in 1988, after a newspaper in Washington obtained and published the video rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

Earlier in the case, Beeler became the first federal judge in the country to rule that the Video Privacy Protection Act applies to companies that stream video on the Web. She said in a 2012 decision that the law was aimed at protecting the privacy of people who watch video -- regardless of technical format.

The law prohibits providers of video tapes or "similar audiovisual material" from disclosing information about consumers' movie-viewing history without their written permission. Hulu argued that streaming media wasn't covered by that language.

But Beeler ruled in 2012 that lawmakers used the phrase "similar audiovisual material" in order to guarantee that the law's "protections would retain their force even as technologies evolve."

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