By Jonathan Stempel
Dec 23 Hulu has failed to persuade a federal
judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the video streaming service
of illegally sharing users' viewing history with Facebook Inc
and business metrics company comScore Inc.
In San Francisco on Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel
Beeler rejected Hulu's argument that viewers needed to show
actual injury to recover damages, even if they qualified as
"aggrieved" persons under a 1988 federal law protecting the
privacy of video renters.
That law, the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), was
adopted after a newspaper published an article in 1987 about
movies that Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork had rented.
Hulu had argued that the law "was not adopted to impose
multi-billion dollar liability on the transmission of anonymous
data where no one suffers any actual injury."
Beeler, however, concluded that "the statute requires only
injury in the form of a wrongful disclosure" before damages
might be available. She did not rule on the merits of the case.
Hulu is a joint venture owned by Comcast Corp's
NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox Inc's Fox Broadcasting,
and Walt Disney Co's ABC. Chief Executive Mike Hopkins
said on Dec. 18 Hulu will post $1 billion of revenue in 2013, up
from $695 million in 2012.
Hulu spokeswoman Meredith Kendall declined to comment on the
decision, saying Hulu does not comment publicly on ongoing legal
The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of Hulu
users nationwide. It was brought by several people in
California, Illinois and New York seeking damages of at least
$2,500 per violation, plus punitive damages and other sums.
These plaintiffs claimed that Hulu let third parties engaged
in marketing, advertising, and social networking track their
video choices without permission.
They claimed that Hulu sent such information to Scorecard
Research, a comScore market research unit, and sent "Facebook
IDs that linked their video choices to personally identifiable
Facebook registration information."
David Parisi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not
immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Hulu has separately argued it would be too hard to certify a
class of plaintiffs. It noted that many users employ fake names,
including 644 named "Homer Simpson," 450 named "Mickey Mouse,"
131 named "Santa Claus" and 18,581 named "John Doe."
A Feb. 6, 2014 hearing has also been scheduled on Hulu's
second motion to dismiss the case. There, Hulu claimed it did
not knowingly transmit protected information to Facebook and
comScore in a manner that violated the VPPA.
The case is In re: Hulu Privacy Litigation, U.S. District
Court, Northern District of California, No. 11-03764.