Meta Defeats Video Privacy Claims Over Live Streaming

Siding with Meta Platforms, a judge has dismissed claims that the social media platform violated the federal video privacy law by allegedly disclosing names of users who watched real-time streaming video.

In a ruling issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in the Northern District of California said the 35-year-old video privacy law applies to pre-recorded broadcasts, not live streams.

The Video Privacy Protection Act -- which Congress passed in 1988, after a Maryland newspaper published video-rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork -- prohibits some video providers from disclosing personally identifiable information about consumers, without consent.

The statute, written long before the widespread availability of streaming video, specifically applies to providers of “prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials.”

Tigar said in his ruling that real-time streaming video isn't similar enough to a “prerecorded video cassette” to be covered by the law.



“Live video content does not fall within the scope of 'similar audio visual materials,'” Tigar wrote in a 15-page decision.

Judges in recent years have struggled with how to apply the video privacy law online. In 2012, a federal judge in California said the law applies to streaming video services like Hulu. In the last year, however, some judges have said that the law only covers online services when they stream prerecorded material.

The new ruling involving Meta Platforms stems from a lawsuit brought last year by California resident Justin Walker. He alleged in a class-action complaint that Facebook reveals the names of users who access video during “Facebook Live” streams to the steams' hosts, and to any of the users' Facebook friends who are also watching the stream.

“Facebook did not notify any of these subscribers that by joining the Facebook Live event, the specific video materials or services they requested from Facebook would be shared with third parties,” Walker alleged.

Meta Platforms urged Tigar to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage, arguing that live streaming isn't covered by the video privacy law.

“Modern-day successors to video stores, like Hulu and Netflix, select and obtain rights to a curated inventory of prerecorded videos they provide to customers. By contrast, Facebook Live allows users to share their own live user-generated broadcasts to connect and communicate with other Facebook users, just as they would share pictures or status updates,” the company argued.

Walker disputed Meta's interpretation of the law.

“A reasonable juror could easily conclude that Meta is engaged in the business of delivering video content 'similar' to prerecorded video cassettes,” Walker's lawyers argued. “Indeed, just like prerecorded video cassette tapes, Facebook Live videos can be replayed over and over again, even years after the videos were created.”

Tigar said in his ruling that even if Facebook made replays available to users, Walker didn't allege in his complaint that he had requested or accessed those replays.

The ruling allows Walker to partially amend his complaint, but only by adding allegations relating to replays of streams. The privacy claims regarding real-time streams were dismissed with prejudice.

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