Patreon Agrees To Settle Video Privacy Battle

Patreon, a platform for content creators, has agreed to settle claims that it violated a 36-year-old federal video privacy law, lawyers for the company told a federal judge on Monday.

Details about the proposed settlement are expected to be disclosed by June 28.

If accepted, the tentative deal will resolve a lawsuit dating to May 2022, when California residents Brayden Stark and Judd Oostyen and other Patreon subscribers claimed in a class-action complaint that the company was violating the federal Video Privacy Protecton Act, which prohibits companies from sharing identifiable information about people's video-viewing history without their consent. Congress passed that law in 1988, after a Washington, D.C. newspaper obtained Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental history from a local store. 

Stark and the others specifically alleged that Patreon transmitted their “viewing choices” to Facebook, along with their Facebook identifiers, via the company's Pixel -- a tracking tool.



Patreon is among dozens of businesses to face recent class-action complaints for allegedly violating the video privacy law by transmitting data to Meta Platforms. Other companies hit with similar lawsuits include Philadelphia Inquirer, Gannett, Epoch Times, WebMD, Paramount and Dotdash Meredith.

Before agreeing to settle, Patreon argued to U.S. District Court Magistrate Joseph Spero in San Francisco that the video privacy law violates the First Amendment for numerous reasons -- including that it restricts truthful speech about the titles of videos people watched.

Among other arguments, Patreon said such a restriction isn't justified by privacy concerns because information about those titles isn't in itself meaningful.

“Patreon is accused of providing Meta, and only Meta, with titles of videos that appeared on paywalled webpages,” the company argued in a written motion for summary judgment. “With only a title and no access to the video content, Meta could not 'know' whether the video was 2 seconds or 2 hours long; whether it was a feature film, a parody, a news clip, or a documentary; even whether it had sound, color, or moving images.”

Civil rights groups urged Spero to reject Patreon's arguments.

In a proposed friend-of-the-court brief filed late last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy & Technology and ACLU argue that the video privacy law protects consumers' First Amendment rights by guarding against “unknown and nonconsensual disclosure of people’s private video viewing habits.”

“People using video services would be chilled from viewing content -- and being inspired by it -- if they knew services were in the business of freely disclosing their viewing histories,” those groups wrote.

Spero recently held a hearing on the constitutionality of the statute, but news of the settlement came before he issued an opinion.

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