It’s potentially the biggest regulation in the federal pipeline that most people don’t know about — and it’s aimed straight at the freedom to publish of the Internet. I explain at Cato at Liberty. More: Coyote (“The implications could be staggering, and in certain scenarios would basically force me to certainly close down this site, and likely close down many of my business sites.”)
Joe Mullin/Ars Technica and Prof. Bagenstos have details. Per the press release (PDF) of the jubilant plaintiffs:
Netflix has increased captioning for 90% of the hours viewed but is now committed to focusing on covering all titles by captioning 100% of all content by 2014. Captions can be displayed on a majority of the more than 1,000 devices on which the service is available.
Earlier here, here, here, and here.
Following up on our Monday posts: in an Ars Technica column, prominent Internet-law expert blogger and lawprof Eric Goldman considers the Massachusetts’ federal judge’s ruling “a bad ruling. Really terrible.” And it’s at odds, he says, with a long series of earlier decisions that had rejected the idea of websites as a “public accommodation” for purposes of the ADA.
In response, lawprof and prominent ADA advocate Sam Bagenstos says precedent in the First Circuit (which covers Massachusetts) is relatively favorable to the public-accommodation theory. And, he says, the federal government’s lawyers have long been committed to the position that the Web is a public accommodation subject to the ADA — which falls into the ever-popular category of “reassurances that leave me less reassured than ever.”
As I note in a new Cato post, a judge ruled last week that Netflix is a “public accommodation” and can be sued for not offering closed captioning on all its streamed films for the convenience of deaf customers. (Earlier here.) If upheld, the ruling will apply not just to Netflix itself but to a much broader class of online communicators; also waiting in the wings are blind advocates who believe the law requires the addition to movies of supplementary soundtracks describing action. As I pointed out to the Boston Globe, obligatory captioning, soundtrack supplementation and the like is likely to make it uneconomic to offer streaming of many films with low expected circulation. Note, however, by way of contrary precedent, this 2010 federal court ruling that online multiplayer games are not a public accommodation. My new post is here (& Allen McDuffee, Washington Post “Think Tanked”, Alexander Cohen/Atlas Society, George Leef/John Locke Foundation, Sam Bagenstos/Disability Law.)
P.S. And this must-read post at Ars Technica from prominent Internet law blogger Eric Goldman (“a bad ruling. Really terrible.” and contrary to precedent). Bonus: “I am so sick and tired of hearing people like Olson… the Walter Olsons of the world” [Ellen Seidman, Parents mag]
Thanks to reader Hugo Cunningham for spotting this in a new Boston Globe report on the failure of the Massachusetts state medical board to post physicians’ disciplinary problems and other performance issues online:
Another major omission has resulted from a Catch-22-like requirement in state law. Russell Aims, the … chief of staff
[of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine], said the board used to post digital copies of its disciplinary orders [for medical malpractice]. But an online accessibility law requires that documents be available in a text-to-speech format for the visually impaired.
Because the PDF format of the disciplinary records is not compatible with text-to-speech software, Aims said, the law dictates that such records cannot appear in the database. If the visually impaired cannot access the information, then no one can.
Assisted by a foundation, Baltimore has proposed putting Nook e-reader devices in some school libraries, but a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind says that would violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). [Business Wire]
A Massachusetts federal judge has declined to throw out an ADA suit against Netflix demanding captioning of its streaming movie service, but “stayed the case pending rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission.” [Qualters, NLJ] Relatedly, Arizona’s largest movie chain will install closed captioning and headset systems in all its outlets following an adverse ruling by the Ninth Circuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). [East Valley Tribune, earlier] Meanwhile, following an audit negotiated in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, “The city of Tucson may have to find an estimated $17 million to bring many of its facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.” [Star]
Dangerous, far-reaching web-accessibility proposals haven’t gone away. [Kelly L. Frey Sr. and Shameak Belvitt, Law.com]
A California federal judge has dismissed Alexander Stern’s case against the Japanese entertainment company, ruling that online multiplayer games such as EverQuest, unlike bricks-and-mortar establishments, are not “places of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act [OnPoint News, opinion in PDF courtesy OnPoint, earlier here and here] (& Darleen Click, Protein Wisdom)
“Two organizations representing the blind have settled a discrimination lawsuit against Arizona State University over its use of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader device. … The university, which denies the pilot program violates any law, agreed that if it does decide to use e-book readers in future classes over the next two years, ‘it will strive to use devices that are accessible to the blind,’ according to their joint statement.” [AP/ABC News; earlier] Related: Berin Szoka, “An Internet for everyone” [L.A. Times/City Journal]