Blockbuster Lawsuit: Texas Woman Sues Over Publication of Video Selections on Facebook

200px-Jewel_of_the_nileBlockbuster and Facebook are the defendants in two interesting privacy lawsuits in Texas where Cathryn Harris is suing them for revealing her name and movie rental tastes. Even more shocking is that anyone is still renting “The Jewel of Nile” with Michael Douglas in 2009.

Harris 25, discovered that every time she rented a movie, Facebook added a note showing the movies that she rented in an agreement with Blockbuster. She insists that “I wasn’t renting any movies that I’m ashamed of, but what if I had been? It’s nobody’s business.” Actually, she should be ashamed. It was a terrible movie and I want everyone to know that Cathryn Harris rents insipid romantic adventure films. There I said it.

200px-Facebook.svg200px-Blockbuster_logo.svgMany, however, may be a bit surprised by the agreement between Blockbuster and Facebook, which is part of Facebook’s controversial Beacon system — allowing cross tracking on different sites. It is part of the whole Facebook obsession with keeping everyone up-to-date on everything that you do in a given day.

In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the Beacon system — removing the automatic posting of the information. However, Harris alleges in the two lawsuits (one against Blockbuster and one against Facebook) that Blockbuster still shared the information with Facebook in violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act below.

Facebook is reportedly settling a similar California lawsuit, which may result in pulling plug on the program, here.

The federal law was passed when Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video tastes were disclosed during his contentious nomination fight. His selection were a bit more impressive than Harris’: A Day at the Races, Ruthless People and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Ruthless People can be forgiven as preparation for his time before Congress.

The Video Privacy Protection Act states in part:

(b) Video Tape Rental and Sale Records.—
(1) A video tape service provider who knowingly discloses, to any person, personally identifiable information concerning any consumer of such provider shall be liable to the aggrieved person for the relief provided in subsection (d).
(2) A video tape service provider may disclose personally identifiable information concerning any consumer—
(A) to the consumer;
(B) to any person with the informed, written consent of the consumer given at the time the disclosure is sought;
(C) to a law enforcement agency pursuant to a warrant issued under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, an equivalent State warrant, a grand jury subpoena, or a court order;
(D) to any person if the disclosure is solely of the names and addresses of consumers and if—
(i) the video tape service provider has provided the consumer with the opportunity, in a clear and conspicuous manner, to prohibit such disclosure; and
(ii) the disclosure does not identify the title, description, or subject matter of any video tapes or other audio visual material; however, the subject matter of such materials may be disclosed if the disclosure is for the exclusive use of marketing goods and services directly to the consumer;
(E) to any person if the disclosure is incident to the ordinary course of business of the video tape service provider; or
(F) pursuant to a court order, in a civil proceeding upon a showing of compelling need for the information that cannot be accommodated by any other means, if—
(i) the consumer is given reasonable notice, by the person seeking the disclosure, of the court proceeding relevant to the issuance of the court order; and
(ii) the consumer is afforded the opportunity to appear and contest the claim of the person seeking the disclosure.
If an order is granted pursuant to subparagraph (C) or (F), the court shall impose appropriate safeguards against unauthorized disclosure.
(3) Court orders authorizing disclosure under subparagraph (C) shall issue only with prior notice to the consumer and only if the law enforcement agency shows that there is probable cause to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant to a legitimate law enforcement inquiry. In the case of a State government authority, such a court order shall not issue if prohibited by the law of such State. A court issuing an order pursuant to this section, on a motion made promptly by the video tape service provider, may quash or modify such order if the information or records requested are unreasonably voluminous in nature or if compliance with such order otherwise would cause an unreasonable burden on such provider.

The act notably allows for punitive damages:

(c) Civil Action.—
(1) Any person aggrieved by any act of a person in violation of this section may bring a civil action in a United States district court.
(2) The court may award—
(A) actual damages but not less than liquidated damages in an amount of $2,500;
(B) punitive damages;
(C) reasonable attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred; and
(D) such other preliminary and equitable relief as the court determines to be appropriate.

For a copy of the complaint, click here.

For the story, click here.

9 thoughts on “Blockbuster Lawsuit: Texas Woman Sues Over Publication of Video Selections on Facebook”

  1. Thanks Bob,Esq., that’s going to be an interesting movie. I’m a big fan of Mr. Bugliosi from way back when he prosecuted the Manson folks.

  2. I joined Facebook to help Sam Seder get a job on MSNBC. That was a year ago and perhaps once a month I look at the site. It may be the old fart in me, but I have no idea as to the purpose of this site, or interest in its’ output.

    As for this situation I’ve read quite a few science fiction tales where one is bombarded by signs and commercials targeted specifically to them as they walk down a street. I have little doubt this will come to pass shortly. As Flipkid puts it:

    “All this time we thought The Government was going to be Big Brother, and it turns out to be Corporate America.”

    With REH completing the point:

    “In modern day America, big government and big business are one and the same.”

  3. Flipkid,

    You’re spot on, but remember: Every time you use Big Brother while discussing politics, George Orwell’s Ghost punches a kitten.

  4. Sign me up! Does John Holmes and Ron Jeremy still make the same films viewed by C. Thomas?

    I would like to know what Thomas has rented, viewed, seen or taken part in! The right to Privacy Indeed. Utopian Expectation.

    nal, The supreme annointed one. The Master awaits your calling. Hail nal, Hail nal.

  5. @Flipkid In modern day America, big government and big business are one and the same. The government side of the behemoth loves social networking sites for data mining purposes.

  6. Prof,

    I take your point on “Ruthless People” as prep work for Bork, but don’t discount the value of having Groucho prep your doublespeak and confusion ray before talking to the Senators. And fancy footwork, lechery, two-timing and general bad behavior? I’ll let the man’s work speak for my point.


  7. All this time we thought The Government was going to be Big Brother, and it turns out to be Coprorate America. And we’re playing right along.

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