Federal Courts Offer a Modern Interpretation of the VHS-Era Video Privacy Protection Act

When does the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which limits what companies can do with personal information about video consumption, apply to companies that post videos online?  The Eleventh Circuit and a New York district court recently dismissed complaints challenging the VPPA – passed in 1988 and designed to protect the privacy of individuals’ VHS rental preferences – narrowing the scope of the Act in the process.  Ellis v. The Cartoon Network, Inc. (11th Cir. Oct. 9, 2015) and Robinson v. Disney Online (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2015) both dealt with free smartphone apps, and questions regarding who is a “subscriber” and what “personally identifiable information” means under the statute.  Simon J. Frankel, a partner at Covington & Burling, told Cybersecurity Law Report that “courts are really struggling with how the statute, not written for this context, applies in this context and [they are] trying to draw where the limits are.”  See also “The Tension Between Interest-Based Advertising and Data Privacy,” Cybersecurity Law Report, Vol. 1, No. 12 (Sep. 16, 2015).

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