In Perry v. Cable News Network, the Eleventh Circuit dealt another loss to putative class-action plaintiffs seeking to use the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”) as a weapon against free online video services. The court affirmed that to be a “subscriber” of a video service—someone who can sue under the VPPA—one must have a genuine commitment, relationship, or association with that service. Because the Perry plaintiff could not show that, he lost.
The VPPA creates a cause of action for video service providers that disclose their consumers’ personally identifiable information alongside their viewing information. The typical Internet example is a paid video service that gives an advertiser a paying subscriber’s email address and viewing history.
To sue under the VPPA, a person must be a “consumer.” The VPPA defines that term as meaning a renter, purchaser, or subscriber of goods or services from a video service provider. “Subscriber” has raised the question of whether someone who downloads and uses a free app can be a “consumer” who can sue under the VPPA. At least in the Eleventh Circuit, Ellis v. Cartoon Network, Inc. answered that question: something more than mere use is needed. Instead, Ellis held that a proper VPPA plaintiff needs “some type of commitment, relationship, or association (financial or otherwise)” between the plaintiff and the video service provider.
In Perry, the district court relied on Ellis to dismiss plaintiff Perry’s suit without leave to amend because he was merely a user of CNN’s free app. Perry argued he could state a VPPA claim because he subscribed to CNN’s television channel through his cable package. This cable subscription let Perry access exclusive content via the CNN app. Perry said this made him a CNN app subscriber. He also said he paid CNN indirectly through his cable subscription. Perry appealed to the Eleventh Circuit on those theories. Continue Reading