If these lawsuits against Netflix were available to watch, we’d stream them

If these lawsuits against Netflix were available to watch, we’d stream them

In the old days, "streaming" meant something completely different and there certainly weren’t many lawsuits filed against the old Netflix, which rented out DVDs and Blu-ray discs. But as Netflix evolved and its impact on culture grew, so did the legal battles it faced. If the following lawsuits against Netflix were to be transformed into a documentary series, you can bet we'd be glued to our screens.

The guy with a hatchet didn’t want to bury the hatchet

Standard lawsuits have been filed against Netflix, including patent lawsuits. Such legal disputes are not uncommon for tech companies like Netflix, considering it is primarily a video streaming platform that uses a fair amount of technology.

While Netflix's core business revolves around video streaming, it is also a media production and distribution company. And like other film studios and media entities, the streaming giant also faces lawsuits related to copyright infringement and defamation cases. One such lawsuit against Netflix involves an allegation that it misused a piece of media: specifically, a photograph of a guy named Taylor Hazlewood.

In April, Mr. Hazlewood sued Netflix for using the image that shows him carrying a hatchet. He said the photo was shot as a tribute to his favorite childhood book, a young adult novel about wilderness survival called Hatchet. The creative minds over at Netflix used said image for a true crime documentary, The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker. The documentary was about a man named Caleb Lawrence McGillvary who was portrayed in the documentary as a hitchhiker turned convicted murderer.

The documentary depicts an incident involving Mr. McGillvary as a hitchhiker. In 2013, while hitchhiking in Fresno, California, a driver who had picked up Mr. McGillvary hit a utility worker with his car and went on to attack a bystander. In response, Mr. McGillvary used a hatchet he had in his bag to repeatedly strike the aggressive driver.

The Netflix documentary features a comparison of Mr. Hazlewood (an innocent man) and Mr. McGillvary (a person who has been convicted of murder) along with an unflattering description of them as "stone-cold killers" and a cautionary tweet stating, "You can never trust anyone." Mr. Hazlewood, a respiratory therapist who has not been accused of, nor has committed, murder wasn’t happy with the use of his photo and sued Netflix for $1 million in damages.

If there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s that it pays to know that you shouldn’t believe everything you watch on Netflix. Don’t be misled by the word “true” in “true crime documentary.”

The hit show responsible for Netflix getting hit with a lawsuit

Although Netflix is huge in most parts of the globe, there’s at least one country that isn’t too pleased with its dominance. In South Korea, internet provider SK Broadband sued Netflix all because of the latter’s massively popular show Squid Game.

In many countries, including South Korea, Squid Game became a global phenomenon after its release on Netflix in September 2021, becoming the streamer’s most watched series of all time. SK Broadband was unhappy about this because network traffic and maintenance work skyrocketed due to the huge amount of bandwidth used up by viewers who streamed the show. They sued Netflix for causing the spikes.

This lawsuit, filed in 2022, followed a Seoul court ruling against Netflix, stating that the streamer should pay the internet provider for network usage. Netflix basically said no to the ruling and argued that it actually did the country a favor, as it has effectively created thousands of jobs and invested billions of Korean won in the country.

We’re sure that with dramatic storytelling, good editing work, and professional subtitling, a documentary about this case would make for a compelling watch.

The subtitle struggles: When Netflix got sued for not providing subtitles

Speaking of subtitling, Netflix also got into legal troubles over subtitling.

In 1998, Netflix’s business model was to rent out physical media (DVDs and Blu-rays) by mail and was therefore not responsible for subtitling the videos they rented out. More than a decade later, they successfully shifted into a streaming service, becoming one of the most profitable companies to rent out, and eventually, produce movies and TV shows. But with great success came great legal problems.

In 2010, Netflix was targeted in two cases over its erratic subtitling. In the early days of its operations, it wasn’t able to provide accurate captions for its library of content. The National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix over the unreliable subtitling. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Netflix must provide subtitles (or closed captions) for its shows.

A similar case was filed against the company in 2011 by Donald Cullen, a deaf individual. Mr. Cullen sued Netflix, alleging that the company violated California law by not providing closed captions for its streaming content. Mr. Cullen argued that this omission deprived him of equal access to Netflix's services, thus infringing upon the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Disabled Persons Act.

Will Netflix feel the heat as passionate fans of Squid Game and other Korean gems unleash lawsuits over its unsubtitled dramas? Bet on it.

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