On September 26, 2018, New Jersey federal district judge Madeline Cox Arleo dismissed an eight-count class action complaint in its entirety against three smart TV makers: Samsung, LG, and Sony.  The plaintiffs alleged that defendants’ smart TVs continuously monitored and tracked their viewing habits, recorded their voices, and then transmitted that information to defendants’ servers,

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 Eleventh Circuit Hands Another VPPA Loss to Video App Plaintiffs

Last week, the Third Circuit adopted a narrow definition of “personally identifiable information,” or “PII,” under the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”), joining the majority of district courts that have addressed similar issues.  The VPPA defines PII as information that “identifies a person as having [obtained a video]” from a video tape service provider (“VTSP”).

In an appeal from the multi-district litigation In re Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litigation, the Third Circuit ruled that digital identifiers such as MAC addresses and IP addresses are not PII because the statutory definition of that term “applies only to the kind of information that would readily permit an ordinary person to identify a specific individual’s video-watching behavior.” 
Continue Reading Third Circuit Takes Narrow View of PII Under the VPPA

In two cases last week, two courts entered widely divergent rulings on the central question of the specific definition of “personally identifiable information,” or “PII,” under the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”).  The VPPA defines PII as information that “identifies a person as having [obtained a video]” from a video tape service provider (“VTSP”).

In Yershov v. Gannett, the First Circuit took a broad view of that definition, deciding that even information such as unique device IDs in connection with GPS coordinates can be PII.  In Perry v. CNN, issued just a few days before Yershov, a federal district court in Georgia took a far more limited view under Eleventh Circuit precedent, holding that MAC addresses are not PII because they are tied to devices, not specific individuals. 
Continue Reading Video Privacy Protection Act Rulings in Gannett and CNN Reach Opposite Conclusions

On October 9, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in Ellis v. Cartoon Network, Inc. that a person who downloads and uses a free mobile application to view freely available content is not, without more, a “subscriber” under the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”).

Cartoon Network offers a free mobile app that people can download to watch

On Tuesday, March 31, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Hulu’s motion for summary judgment in a complaint alleging that Hulu had violated the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) by sharing user information with Facebook.  In granting summary judgment, the court found no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Hulu “knowingly” disclosed video viewing information connected to individual Hulu users to Facebook, a required element for VPPA liability.  While the court’s holding may be too fact-bound to have widespread impact on other VPPA cases, it does highlight the important role of the VPPA’s knowledge requirement in determining liability under the statute.
Continue Reading Court Grants Summary Judgment on VPPA Claims Against Hulu Based on Lack of ‘Knowing’ Disclosure

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the “Video Privacy Protection Act Amendments Act of 2012,” a law that amends the VPPA’s notoriously vague consent provision.  As originally enacted, the VPPA allowed “video tape service providers” to disclose consumers’ “personally identifiable information” (including their video viewing histories) with a consumer’s consent only if that consent were “informed, written . . . [and] given at the time the disclosure [was] sought.”  Even in the brick-and-mortar world of 1988 (when the VPPA was passed), this consent provision was confusing.  What did it mean to provide consent “at the time the disclosure [was] sought”?  “Sought” by whom (the video tape service provider, the consumer or a third party)?  Could a consumer authorize a disclosure in advance of its occurrence? 

The application of the consent provision has become even more vexed over time, as video distribution has changed radically.  Some have argued that the VPPA is broad enough to govern the disclosure of video viewing activities online, and so online video service providers have grown increasingly interested in this once-obscure statute.  Late last year, Congress acted to help clarify the consent issue.

After the jump, we provide our final analysis of the amendments. 


Continue Reading The Video Privacy Protection Act Amendments: A Final Analysis

Continuing the flurry of activity around privacy legislation that we have seen over the past few weeks, the House today passed an amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2710.  The bill would amend the VPPA by clarifying that a consumer may consent to the disclosure of her video viewing information

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the much-discussed update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Video Privacy Protection of 1988 (“VPPA”).  The Committee adopted Senator Leahy’s manager’s amendment (which we discussed here), with a minor modification proposed by Senators Cornyn and Lee. 

Senator Feinstein also offered an amendment to the