Hulu Asks Judge To Dismiss Video Privacy Class-Action

Hulu argues in new court papers that a lawsuit accusing it of violating a federal video privacy law should be dismissed on the grounds that the Web users who filed suit didn't suffer any injuries.

The online streaming company is facing a potential class-action lawsuit for allegedly violating the Video Privacy Protection Act, a 1988 law that prohibits movie rental companies from disclosing information about which movies consumers watch. The law also provides for up to $2,500 damages per violation. The consumers say that Hulu violated the statute by revealing information about their movie-viewing history to comScore and Facebook.

But Hulu says in court papers filed on Wednesday that the federal video privacy law specifies that people who are “aggrieved” by violations can sue for damages. Hulu argues that this language means that people can't recover money unless they have been injured as a result of disclosures.

“Congress could have worded the VPPA to provide monetary relief merely on a showing of an improper disclosure,” Hulu argues in a motion seeking summary judgment. “But it did not do so. Instead, it required that, to obtain an award of damages, the plaintiff be 'aggrieved' by the disclosure.”

Hulu previously acknowledged in court papers that it discloses data to third parties, but says that it never linked users' names to their movie-watching history. Instead, it assigns users a seven-digit User ID, and then transmits data about that User ID.

The consumers alleged in their lawsuit that third parties could figure out people's identities from their User IDs, given that Hulu included the User ID in the Web page addresses of users' profile pages. Hulu, which stopped transmitting User IDs two years ago, countered that there's no proof that any third parties were able to figure out users' identities.

U.S. District Court Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco issued a key ruling against Hulu last year when she said that the federal video law applies to companies that stream video on the Web. She said in a written decision that the law is designed to protect the privacy of people who watch video regardless of technical format.

That ruling marked the first time that a court explicitly ruled that streaming video services are covered by the 1988 privacy law, which was passed after a newspaper in Washington obtained and published the video rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
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