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Hollywood Studios Sued for Missing Song Captions in Movies

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on January 21, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Hollywood studios are moving to dismiss a case that claims captioning for the hearing impaired fails the deaf by omitting song lyrics. The studios say they have creative discretion. The plaintiffs argue that the lack of lyrics deprives the deaf of a film's full meaning and is a civil rights violation.

If you are not hard of hearing and watch movies with the captioning on anyway, as some of us do, you will soon see the plaintiff's point. Film and television captioning tends to be spotty even putting the lyrics issue aside. But the jury is still out on whether inferior captioning is illegal or just unfair.

What's That You Sing?

The plaintiffs are members of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. They filed their lawsuit in California in October.

"Their legal action follows a quarter century of Congressional action, FCC rulemaking and past litigation over a campaign to provide those with hearing disabilities, estimated to be 10 percent of the population, with equal access to creative works," writes The Hollywood Reporter.

The suit argues that studios are falsely advertising films when they claim they're captioned for the hearing impaired. "Movies or shows that do not include the subtitled song/music lyrics withhold the full enjoyment of the movie or show from deaf or hard of hearing consumers. If parts of the movie or show are not captioned or subtitled, then deaf and hard of hearing consumers should be told as such before making a decision to rent or purchase the DVD, theater ticket, or streaming."

The plaintiffs provide numerous examples from movie history that show the importance of lyrics in conveying the full meaning of a scene.

David and Goliath

But this battle will not be easy for the plaintiffs to win. They are up against giants with lots of money for legal gamesmanship. After having the case removed to federal court, a group of five movie studios moved to dismiss the complaint.

"Simply put: No law requires the Studios to caption all song lyrics, for all movies and TV shows, across any -- much less all -- of the distribution channels Plaintiffs target here," states a motion to strike on behalf of Disney, Warner Bros. Universal, Paramount Sony and Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

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