Bell Association sues filmmakers

Staff report

WASHINGTON, D.C — Although Netflix, Sony, Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Buena Vista advertise movies and shows as fully captioned, members of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) and other deaf individuals found otherwise.

As a result, AG Bell members and other deaf individuals filed a class action lawsuit against these major studios for damages they sustained as a result of the studios practice of not captioning song lyrics in movies and television shows.

“For people who are deaf and hard of hearing to understand a show, captions and subtitles are essential,” said Meredith K. Sugar, Esq., AG Bell President. “If part of the show is not captioned or subtitled, then they cannot follow what is being said and they miss out on enjoying popular culture the same way as other people without hearing loss enjoy.”

AG Bell has long promoted greater captioning accessibility throughout the world of entertainment.

“We have made tremendous progress in captioning over the decades,” said Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, AG Bell CEO. “However, the studios’ failure to caption song lyrics has greatly frustrated people who are deaf and hard of hearing nationwide.”

“Studios believe that copyright law prohibits them from captioning song lyrics in movies and television shows. That is just flat-out wrong,” said John F. Stanton, AG Bell member and author of an article in the UCLA Entertainment Law Journal, which sharply criticized studios for not captioning or subtitling song lyrics. “Courts have made clear that reproducing otherwise copyrighted material for the purpose of making the material accessible to people with disabilities is not a violation of the federal copyright act. Song lyrics can be significant. Among other things, they can explain the premise of a show, set the tone or mood for the show, provide for comic value, show romance, provide political commentary, set up a pivotal point, or explain surrounding historical events better than ordinary dialogue ever could. There is no excuse for studios not to caption song lyrics.”

The complaint was filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs are Christine Anthony, Susan Boswell, Evan Brunell, Darby Leigh, Ken Levinson, Catharine McNally, Pauline Newton, Jay Wyant and Kristin Zlogar, represented by John “Jack” A. Girardi of Girardi and Keese.

The defendants are Buena Vista Home Entertainment Inc., The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Warner Home Entertainment Inc., Universal Studios Home Entertainment LLC, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., and Netflix.

Staff report