Does the ADA Apply to Netflix? Court Says Yes

Do websites need to make accommodations for users with auditory and visual disabilities under the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

That’s the question at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Deaf, which argues that Netflix should provide closed-captioning on its “Watch Instantly” online video streaming service.

The case recently survived a motion to dismiss filed by Netflix. (The streaming media company said that the ADA does not apply to its services; a Massachusetts court disagreed.)

What does this preliminary decision mean for online businesses? Three takeaways:

1. You don’t need bricks and mortar to operate in a public place:

“… the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that Netflix’s ‘Watch Instantly’ on-demand movie and television streaming service is a ‘place of public accommodation’ subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s bar on disability-based discrimination.” (Massachusetts Federal Court Finds On-Demand Web Streaming Service Falls within the ADA’s Scope by BuckleySandler LLP)

2. You may be liable for ADA compliance even if you don’t produce the content:

“Regarding Netflix’s assertions that it lacks the requisite control of the video content to be responsible for its captioning, the court held that Netflix’s ownership and operation of the Watch Instantly site was sufficient at this stage of the case to withstand a motion to dismiss. Rather, such issues raised by Netflix regarding the need for copyright owners’ permission to caption content, the court held, may be addressed later in the litigation, after discovery and if pursued by the parties, through summary judgment.” (Federal Court Holds in ADA Suit that Netflix Web Streaming Can Be “Place of Public Accommodation” by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP)

3. You should consider increasing accessibility of your website:

“Companies and organizations providing services via the Internet or selling goods online would be well advised to review the accessibility of their websites. Some technological accessibility solutions may be available and, to an increasing extent, are not cost-prohibitive… Such accessibility measures, while not (yet) a matter of legal mandate under the ADA, may commend themselves from a business or operational perspective, to the extent they expand the pool of customers or users who can interact with a business’s online space.” (Massachusetts Federal Court Rules That the ADA Applies to Online-Only Business as a “Place of Public Accommodation” by Ropes & Gray LLP)

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