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CNN.com Lawsuit Update
A California judge has rejected CNN’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit brought about by GLAD.
The Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/cnn-deaf-lawsuit-attempt-dismiss-glad-305479
CNN.com Lawsuit Information
At a long and involved hearing on Thursday, February 2, 2012, a federal court in Oakland, California firmly rejected CNN’s efforts to throw out GLAD’s lawsuit demanding closed-captioning on CNN.com.
GLAD and three individual plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in June 2011 following unsuccessful informal efforts to persuade defendant to provide closed-captioning for its online videos at CNN.com. The lawsuit alleges that CNN’s refusal to provide closed-captioning for its online videos violates California’s civil rights statutes by excluding deaf and hard of hearing visitors to CNN.com. In September 2011, CNN made a “Motion to Strike” the case under California’s “anti-SLAPP” statute. SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” and is designed to prevent plaintiffs from using litigation as a weapon against defendants’ free speech rights. CNN claimed in its Motion to Strike that requiring it to provide closed captioning at CNN.com violates its free speech rights.
At hearing on February 2, 2012, CNN’s attorney claimed that closed captioning would contain transcription errors. The attorney argued that CNN’s choice not to closed-caption on the internet was an editorial choice not to carry speech content that contained errors, and that this choice is “in furtherance of” CNN’s free speech rights. Plaintiffs’
counsel, Laurence W. Paradis of Disability Rights Advocates, noted that plaintiffs have submitted evidence showing that a qualified captioning company can provide closed-captioning without more errors than broadcast television captioning. Plaintiffs have not asked for a particular closed-captioning technology, but instead have demanded that defendant provide closed captioning that gives deaf and hard of hearing visitors full and equal access to the benefits of the videos on CNN.com. The 21st Century Video and Communications Accessibility Act requires that online closed-captioning be of at least equal quality to closed captioning on broadcast television.
The court agreed with plaintiffs and rejected CNN’s arguments.
Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler indicated that the lawsuit does not implicate CNN’s free speech rights under the First Amendment or the anti-SLAPP statute. The Judge noted that the lawsuit is not about the content of CNN’s speech, but about the “mechanics of delivery” of that speech. She further agreed with plaintiffs’ position that deaf Californians do not seek to change CNN’s speech– they want access to CNN’s speech. The judge made clear that she intends to deny CNN’s motion to strike. The court will likely issue an order denying CNN’s motion within the next several weeks.
Dr. Patricia Hughes attended the hearing along with numerous other members of California’s deaf and hard of hearing community.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 15, 2011
Dr. Patricia Hughes, GLAD CEO
Anna Levine and Elizabeth Leonard of Disability Rights Advocates
Linda Dardarian and Rachel Brill of Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian
CNN.COM SUED BY DEAF AND HARD-OF-HEARING for lack of CAPTIONED VIDEOS ON ITS WEBSITE
Oakland, CA – June 15, 2011 – A class action lawsuit filed today in Alameda County Superior Court alleges that Time Warner Inc., the owner of CNN.com discriminates against people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing by failing to provide any captioning of its on-line videos on its website. The suit is the first of its kind in the country.
The suit is brought by The Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (“GLAD”) on behalf of its members with hearing loss, and three individual plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a non-profit disability rights legal center headquartered in Berkeley, California that specializes in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities and Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian, a plaintiffs’ public interest class action law firm headquartered in Oakland, California.
The internet has revolutionized the speed of reporting and the ability to access news information. Within hours of a story breaking, videos are posted on news websites allowing the public to access critical information. Yet, CNN.com one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world, refuses to provide any captioning of its on-line videos, excluding the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities from accessing video news content on its website.
Viewership of CNN.com rises dramatically when breaking news becomes available. For example, according to its own website, CNN.com received 67 million global page views in a single day, March 12, 2011, immediately following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Almost every user who visited CNN.com that day watched a video; according to its own website, CNN.com received 60 million global video starts on March 12, 2011.
Hearing loss is a major disability. The Hearing Loss Association of America reports that approximately 36 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss. Approximately 1 million Americans are functionally deaf. The number of adults with hearing loss is expected to increase significantly as the baby boomer generation continues to age. California, with 100,000 deaf residents, is thus home to a great many people who depend on captions to understand news videos.
Many people with hearing loss utilize captioning to understand video content. Captioning displays dialogue, and may also identify who is speaking and include non-speech information conveyed through sound, such as sound effects, music and laughter.
Currently, broadcast and cable television content must be closed captioned under federal communications law. There is readily available technology that would enable on-line news sites to provide similar closed captions. Captioning can be provided as an option for deaf and hard- of-hearing visitors to CNN.com without interfering with the experience of non-disabled website visitors.
“Time Warner’s refusal to provide captioning of its videos is astounding given how central the internet is in today’s communication environment. The lack of captioned videos means that millions of people with hearing loss will continue to be denied equal access to video news content on CNN.com, “said Anna Levine, Plaintiffs’ attorney of Disability Rights Advocates.
Donny Jacob, a plaintiff in the case says, “The era of waiting for the six o’clock news is over. I simply want an equal opportunity to view news videos on CNN.com’s website at my convenience like most people can.”
“As we gear up for the 2012 presidential elections, watching debates among candidates will be of major importance to Americans. Body language and facial cues are a central part of communication for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Videos with captions allow people who lack the ability to hear or have minimal hearing to access these aspects of communication, which are vital for viewing speeches,” said Linda M. Dardarian, Plaintiffs’ attorney of Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian.
Jennifer Olson, a plaintiff in the case, regularly visits CNN.com for news. “People with hearing loss want to watch captioned videos of candidates’ speeches for a clearer understanding and perception of each candidate,” said Jennifer Olson.
Edward Kelly, a plaintiff in the case is an advocate who works with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. After the Tsunami in Japan hit, Edward like many Americans was concerned about whether radiation levels would spread to the U.S. “I could see pictures of nuclear reactors that were damaged but without captioning, I did not know if the radiation would spread to California. My clients echoed the same concern. I wanted to provide them with an accurate report about radiation levels but the lack of captioning prevented me from doing so,” said Edward Kelly.
“Technology has the ability to advance society but if technology is not accessible, it harms certain communities by excluding them. CNN’s refusal to provide captioning of its on-line video news content is leaving deaf and hard-of-hearing communities behind as they cannot instantly and conveniently access crucial news information,” says Dr. Patricia Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of GLAD, an organizational Plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges violations of California’s anti-discrimination statutes: the Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act. A copy of the Complaint can be found at www.dralegal.org.
About Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc. (GLAD)
The mission of the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc. (GLAD) is to ensure equal access of the deaf and hard of hearing community to the same opportunities afforded their hearing counterparts. The organization’s general purposes and powers are directed around the promotion of the social, recreational, cultural, educational, and vocational well-being of its deaf and hard of hearing constituents. www.gladinc.org
About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is a non-profit legal center which, for nearly twenty years, has specialized in high-impact class action litigation on behalf of people with all types of disabilities. DRA litigates nationally and has offices in New York City and Berkeley, California.
About Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian
Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian, is an Oakland, California based law firm which represents plaintiffs nationally in complex and class action litigation, including civil rights, employment discrimination, wage and hour, disability access, consumer, and other public interest class actions.
How You Can Take Action
If you have encountered access barriers at CNN.com and would like to share your experience, or would like more information about the lawsuit, please contact Disability Rights Advocates at (510) 665-8644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bloomberg BNA: http://www.bna.com/challenge-cnns-decision-n12884908856/
Entertainment Law Digest: http://www.entlawdigest.com/2012/03/28/Captions.pdf
Opposing Views: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/lights-camera-captions
San Francisco Gate: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2012/02/04/BAKK1N2SST.DTL
Courthouse News: www.courthousenews.com/2011/06/16/New_Complaints.htm