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In the News

Would a Netflix App on Facebook Be Illegal?

As mentioned in: CNNMoney
March 27, 2012
James G. Gatto, leader of Pillsbury's Social Media, Entertainment & Technology team, was asked by CNNMoney to address the legal gray area preventing Netflix from using its popular Facebook app in the U.S. The interesting hang-up concerns a rather obscure—but far-reaching—law that makes it illegal for apps or people to share users' video rental histories.

In 1988, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits "a video tape service provider" from disclosing customers' "personally identifiable information" without their written consent.  Predating DVD rentals—let alone the Web or streaming video—the VPPA’s teeth nonetheless keep companies from offering apps or features that share which movies or TV shows a customer watches, as many apps do today with songs, news articles and games.

Netflix says the VPPA prevents it from releasing its Facebook app, which is available in all 46 countries in which it operates—except the United States. The company is lobbying Congress for an update to the law that would give video providers the same flexibility with respect to social media that all other types of media providers enjoy.

At the same time, CNNMoney reports that Netflix competitor Hulu evidently sees no such barrier, and launched its own Facebook app last year where users can opt in to share their viewing history with others.

Gatto explained that this disconnect might come down to the fact that Netflix offers discs in addition to streaming video, while Hulu only offers streaming content.

"Arguably, the intent of the law is that the form of the video—streaming or disc—shouldn't matter," Gatto said. "An attorney general would say that. But Hulu could possibly argue that the law covers only physical goods."

The issue, Gatto says, is that "to a certain extent, legislators don't really want to legislate technology. They want to craft an objective. But in this case, the potential ambiguity is a problem."

Click here to read the article.
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