NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

DOJ Looks to Regulate Movie Theaters

December 3, 2014

The Department of Justice is proposing to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to require movie theaters to offer closed captioning services for the deaf. Submitting comments on the proposal, Christopher Koopman and Scott Eastman of the Mercatus Center argue the agency's rule needs some work.

The ADA limits the ability of public accommodations to deny services to the disabled or treat them differently. The DOJ has proposed to require movie theaters to play movies with closed captioning and audio descriptions at all times, for all showings, unless to do so would be an undue burden. The DOJ's proposal, however, is problematic, as it's expensive and missing key data.

When issuing regulations, Koopman and Eastman note that Executive Order 12866 requires all agencies to identify a problem, explain its significance and identify the existing market failures that justify regulatory action on the problem. But in pushing for closed captioning services at movie theaters, the DOJ did not provide numbers on how many theaters were currently providing, or not providing, captioning services, nor did it identify how many individuals were demanding but being denied captioning services. In fact, one estimate from the National Association of Theater Owners suggests that 53 percent of digital movie screens already have closed captioning technology.

Moreover, Koopman and Eastman write that the agency did not look at the many closed captioning offerings available from other forms of entertainment (such as streaming video services like Netflix). And while the DOJ contends that the benefits of the rule outweigh its costs, it does not actually monetize the benefits of the proposed regulation.  

Source: Christopher Koopman and Scott Eastman, "Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations-Movie Theaters; Movie Captioning and Audio Description," Mercatus Center, November 26, 2014.


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