Netflix: In Other Lawsuit Related News
Two good friends from England visited me this weekend, and over a (proper-sized) pint at a good Irish pub, we ended up discussing what this "law" thing I'm studying is. (I keep my old friends up to date on what's happening here, and they'd been reading about this 'clerkship' stuff, something called the MPRE, and a host of other strange and nonsensical terms.) The most difficult explanation--made slightly more difficult by the fact that we mentioned it during the second round of drinks--was probably the strange American tradition of the class action.
We Americans tend to take the class action lawsuit (and class action lawyers) for granted, but they don't exist in much of the rest of the world. The idea of randomly being involved in a lawsuit that you don't know anything about, when you didn't really have a complaint against the company to begin with, seems a bit... well, odd. And I have to admit, even after two years of legal training and quite a bit of study, I'm still a bit frustrated whenever I open up my mailbox or glance in my email to find that I've won the $2.57 American Legal Lottery.
Such a thing happened this evening whilst I was reading for Bankruptcy. I looked from my textbook to find that I'd been visited by the Netflix Fairy in the form of Frank Chavez v. Netflix, Inc.. What's the rumpus?
You are receiving this notice because you were a paid Netflix member before January 15, 2005. Under a proposed class action settlement, you may be eligible to receive a free benefit from Netflix.
A class action lawsuit entitled Chavez v. Netflix, Inc. was filed in San Francisco Superior Court (case number CGC-04-434884) on September 23, 2004. The lawsuit alleges that Netflix failed to provide "unlimited" DVD rentals and "one day delivery" as promised in its marketing materials. Netflix has denied any wrongdoing or liability. The parties have reached a settlement that they believe is in the best interests of the company and its subscribers.
I like Netflix. They provide a groovy little service through a reasonable web interface, and their impersonal online help means that I never had to deal with the legendarily rude and snobbish counter staff at Kim's Mediapolis when I want to get a film. If they've not provided me with "unlimited" movies, it's only because I don't turn them around often enough, and given that they send things through the U.S. Post, I'd not have expected "one-day delivery" if I'd ever seen it promised. I certainly can't remember that. (Update 1)
In short, I've got no beef with my Netflixy friends. And yet I'm going to be getting a bump up of one class to my membership for a month so they can mollify me for an injury of which I was wholly unaware. In the meantime, two San Francisco lawyers are going to be getting (up to) a fat $2.5 million paycheck from the settlement, and Mr. Chavez, the noble knight who brought this foolishness on my behalf, will get a $2,000 Don Quixote fee. Such settlement money won't go into, say, buying more movies for me to rent, making nifty software that will in turn be converted to niftier plugins for blogs, or indeed any improvement that will make my life demonstrably happier. If Netflix caused anything near a $2,000 injury to Mr. Chavez, I want to know what he was doing with those DVDs.
As a satisfied Netflix customer, Mr. Chavez and his legal eagles have stripped my pocket in my own name.
There are instructions in the settlement agreement for objecting. I don't think it's possible, and I certainly don't have the time to write out such a request, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we could write to Judge Mellon, tell him that we're generally satisfied with our service and not feeling all that put upon, really, and could he please reduce the fees paid out to the plaintiff's lawyers on our behalf?
(Actually, looking around the web on this issue, it appears that some folks aren't that happy at all about Netflix. The lawsuit seems to be over whether the company "throttled" their heavy users, i.e. didn't send them their movies fast enough. Me, I don't know where I'd find enough time to watch all the movies required to get "throttled." Perhaps someone is getting hurt here, but (a) the complaint is certainly not explained in the settlement letters, and (b) I'm certainly not one of those folks. Indeed, if the settlement has accomplished anything, it seems to be a transfer of benefits from moderate to heavy Netflix users, with $2.8 million sucked out by lawyers for the benefit of none and a $2,000 cherry on top for Mr. Chavez. With victories like this, thank God there aren't more battles to win.)
Update 1: Hmm. Looking online, there seems to have been ads promising one day delivery. Fair enough for that claim, then. For clarity, I should point out that I mentioned not being able to remember such a promise not because I didn't believe it had occurred (it is in the settlement, after all), but because I'd never made it a reason for subscribing.