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Hulu Wins Ruling in Facebook Privacy Case, but Plaintiffs Vow Appeal

Hulu cleared a hurdle in a years-long legal battle against opponents wanting to extract a price for alleged privacy breaches on Facebook — but the Internet-streaming service is not out of the woods yet.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in 2011, alleged Hulu violated the 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act, passed after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video-rental history was disclosed to the media. The claim: that Hulu linked information identifying users’ video choices to other information, by posting their selections to Facebook. (Not that anyone cares, especially at this point, but Bork evidently rented “Ruthless People” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” among other titles.)

On Tuesday, Hulu won a verdict in its favor in the case.

“[T]he court finds dispositive the absence of any issue of material fact that Hulu actually knew that Facebook might combine information that identified Hulu users with separate information specifying which video that user was watching, so as to identify a person as having requested or obtained specific video materials,” Judge Laurel Beeler of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in her ruling.

However, a rep for the plaintiffs suing Hulu told Variety that the decision would be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. So this legal drama is not necessarily over.

Asked for comment, Hulu provided this statement from senior VP and general counsel Chadwick Ho: “Hulu is deeply committed to protecting our viewer’s personal information, and we are gratified by the court’s ruling. This decision validates our willingness, as a matter of principle, to prove the integrity of our business practices, even if it means spending nearly four years in litigation.”

Other Internet services that allow auto-sharing of activity to Facebook include Netflix and Spotify. In fact, Netflix had to lobby Congress to change the 1988 law forbidding video-rental services from disclosing customers’ activity.

It’s worth noting that in 2013, Hulu disabled Facebook sharing of viewing selections. Hulu is a joint venture of 21st Century Fox, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Disney.

The plaintiffs in this case, repped by lead firm Strange & Carpenter, are Joseph Garvey, Sandra Peralta, Paul Torre, Joshua Wymyczak and Evan Zampella — who say they are (or were) each registered Hulu users. Hulu is represented in the matter by L.A.-based O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

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