The Netflix Law: Privacy Law Stalls Facebook Integration

Last week, Netflix announced some big changes in their structure and offerings. First, they will split into two companies: one for streaming and one for physical DVD rental. Second, Netflix subscribers will be able to share and discuss their rentals through Facebook. The Netflix blog reports: “The Netflix/Facebook integration empowers you as a Netflix member to share what you watch from Netflix with your friends on Facebook and to discover what your friends are watching both on Facebook and within the Netflix user interface. This makes it easier and more fun to find new television series and movies to watch.” Michael Drobac, Director of Government Relations at Netflix, has a caveat, however. This access will be limited to users outside of the US due to a “1980s law that creates some confusion over our ability to allow U.S. members to share what they watch.” Since Netflix didn’t cite the code or link to which “1980’s law” they are referring to, I thought it might be useful to post about it. Mr. Drobac is talking about  18 USC § 2710, “Wrongful Disclosure of Video Tape Rental or Sale Records.” This law authorizes civil penalties for release of consumer rentals or sales without informed consent of the renter or a court order.

Mr. Drobac mentions H.R. 2471, sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte, which would amend that law. The bill is submitted “[t]o amend section 2710 of title 18, United States Code, to clarify that a video tape service provider may obtain a consumer’s informed, written consent on an ongoing basis and that consent may be obtained through the Internet.”

This bill would alter 18 USC 2710(b)(2)(B), which allows disclosure “to any person with the informed, written consent of the consumer given at the time the disclosure is sought”:

SECTION 1. AMENDMENT.

Section 2710(b)(2) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by striking subparagraph (B) and inserting the following:

`(B) to any person with the informed, written consent (including through an electronic means using the Internet) of the consumer given at one or both of the following times:

`(i) The time the disclosure is sought.

`(ii) In advance for a set period of time or until consent is withdrawn by such consumer.’.

In other words, Netflix and Facebook want you to give one-time consent to share your streaming selections an ongoing basis.

18 USC 2710(e) also provides for records destruction, a problematic area for Facebook public relations.

Big HT to Nick Moline, a Justia engineer, who had this up on Facebook right away after the announcement. Awesome thing about this company: even our engineers love the law!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the Hat Tip Courtney, and for linking to H.R. 2471 which I hadn’t yet found when I posted about the law.

    Interestingly enough this was one law I actually knew about before I joined Justia and became particularly interested in the law.  Long ago (when it was still a part o Viacom) I used to work for Blockbuster Video, and we were briefed about 18 USC § 2710 in our training, as we had to make sure we didn’t violate it.