Should Movie Theaters Caption Song Lyrics?

movie theaters caption song lyricsShould movie theaters caption song lyrics?

What if the iconic end to the film “Fight Club” featured the lyrics to The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind?” scrolling across the bottom of the screen? What if the words to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” distracted from Chris Pratt’s beloved dance scene at the start of “Guardians of the Galaxy?”

While such subtitling may alter the viewing experience for some movies, one lawsuit claims that in the future, song lyrics should be captioned or at the very least, films should include a warning to deaf consumers explaining the lack of captioning. Numerous advocates for improved accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing agree.

Will future DVD, theater and streaming releases include song lyric subtitles?

The law requires that individuals with hearing disabilities are given equal access to entertainment, and the litigation contends that movies that don’t include captioning for song lyrics violate this regulation. The lawsuit claims that movie studios’ failure to provide subtitles for song lyrics takes away from deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers’ experiences. Could this lawsuit change the way that studios approach captioning in the future? Not if the studios’ arguments against such requirements succeed.

Studios’ arguments against song lyric subtitles

The defendants outlined three reasons why the lawsuit filed by members of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing should fail. Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, Disney, Paramount and Buena Vista Home Entertainment filed dismissal motions explaining their arguments.

For example, they state that although studios are required to offer captioning, no reasonable consumer would understand that to apply to song lyrics in addition to conversation. While the lawsuit alleges false advertising, the studios argue that the reasonable viewer’s understanding of captioning requirements absolves them of misrepresentation. This argument addresses the allegations that the studios are guilty of false advertising, but does not speak to claims that the lack of lyric captioning is a breach of civil rights legislation.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 & the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 each offer studios guidelines concerning captioning requirements. The former legislation mandated that “manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services” provide equal access to people with disabilities. The latter, meanwhile, explains closed captioning requirements for video that is distributed via the Internet and programming devices. The Federal Communications Commissions’ outline of the regulation repeatedly mentions television, but does not address movies.

This is what the studios’ argument points to – that their film productions are not regulated in the same way as television is. The defendants’ dismissal motions note that closed captioning rules apply to broadcast television, but not to DVDs, streaming or theaters. The defendants claim that they are allowed to caption music included in movies as they see fit, and are not required to include subtitles for the lyrics of every song used in films.

In their dismissal motions, the studios also reference a 2006 settlement on DVD closed captioning that seems to acknowledge that all song lyrics do not require closed captioning. This prior ruling, combined with their arguments against false advertising and civil rights violations are what the studios are banking on to push dismissal of the lawsuit against them.

Music is important to movies, and the lyrics sometimes are part of the reason why. Other times they are just a component of the song. Either way, it seems some civil rights groups feel that lyrics should always be subtitled in future film releases. Whether the court decides the studios’ have a legitimate argument against such a notion remains to be seen.

If you believe your civil rights are violated due to unequal access to movies, television or music, speak with an experienced entertainment law attorney to learn more. 

Email this to someoneShare on LinkedIn6Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Tumblr0Share on Reddit0

Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

Comments are closed.