Web Users Seek To Revive Video Privacy Lawsuit Against Hulu

A group of Web users who unsuccessfully sued Hulu for allegedly violating a federal video privacy law are asking an appellate court to revive their lawsuit.

The consumers' notice of appeal, filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, doesn't set out their legal arguments. But the paperwork is the first step toward asking the 9th Circuit to reinstate the case, which was dismissed late last month by U.S. District Court Judge Laurel Beeler in the Northern District of California.

The battle centers on allegations that Hulu violated the Video Privacy Protection Act by automatically transmitting information to Facebook via its social plug-in. Between April of 2010 and June of 2012, the “Like” button 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.

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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 video privacy law's 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.

Other online video providers -- including AMC, Dow Jones, The Cartoon Network and CNN -- also have been sued for allegedly transmitting the type of information that can be used to piece together users' identities with the videos they have seen.

In the last several months, trial judges have dismissed cases against Dow Jones, AMC and The Cartoon Network. The consumers who brought the cases against Dow Jones and The Cartoon Network have recently appealed the rulings.

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