Hulu Suffers Setback in Privacy Class Action

A California judge says that plaintiffs don't have to show actual injuries in a lawsuit over information shared with advertisers.

Before there was Netflix, there was Robert Bork.

In 1987, a newspaper obtained a list of videotapes the then-Supreme Court nominee rented from his local store. That was before the last Blockbuster closed. And it was before citizens began self-publishing their intimate behavior on social networking sites. At the time, some were aghast at the privacy intrusion. Thereafter, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act, intended to penalize the "wrongful disclosure of videotape rental or sales records."

A lot has changed in the past 25 years, including the VPPA. Last year, after heavy tech industry lobbying, President Obama signed into law a VPPA amendment allowing companies to obtain consent for disclosure. Now, companies like Facebook or Netflix can avoid liability with a click of a user agreement.

Still, some digital entertainment companies are contending with VPPA lawsuits submitted before the changes.

One such company is Hulu, fighting a consumer class action launched in July of 2011 that alleges the video site shared users' viewing history with third-party marketers.

The company co-owned by Disney, Fox and NBCU argued in a summary judgment motion that plaintiffs needed to demonstrate their actual injuries resulting from a statutory violation of the VPPA.

No, a magistrate judge responds. The wrongful disclosure is the injury. No more is needed as a prerequisite to collect damages. Here's the full ruling. The lawsuit continues. Other companies like Netflix have spent millions settling VPPA claims.


Twitter: @eriqgardner