Cinema access court decision in USA breaks down barriers

Monday, 3 May 2010 10:19am

In a complex legal decision in Arizona, the door has been opened for a negotiated deal that will make closed captioning and audio description more likely in cinemas in the USA.

The decision in the appeals court against the Harkins cinema chain confirmed that closed captioning and audio description are “auxiliary aids and services” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is important as it shows that a cinema cannot argue that closed captioning and description are modifications of a film to make it a different product (which may make it exempt under the ADA). Interestingly, the decision also confirms that open captioning is not an auxiliary aid, but is still permitted under the ADA (two of the Harkins cinemas were showing open captioned prints).

The main consequence of this case is that it has been referred back to the lower court for reconsideration. Harkins may argue that provision of closed captioning causes undue burden (similar to the Australian unjustifiable financial hardship provisions).  Commentators are saying that a more likely outcome is that the cinema chain will negotiate with the US Department of Justice and get a ruling on what level of closed captioning and description they have to provide under the ADA.

A PDF of the decision transcript can be downloaded from the U.S. Courts website.

This decision, which potentially opens up the market for closed captioning technology, comes at a time when new closed captioning solutions are starting to emerge, such as Doremi’s CaptiView.


Top of page