The video streaming service Netflix has had a lot of success with its original content. That of course is a much different business model from when it started out offering other people’s films via the mail.
But a consequence of producing original content, as opposed to distributing content produced by other people, is an increased risk of liability for that content.
The case of John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. v. Netflix, filed earlier this week is a case in point. Reid is a firm specializing in training law enforcement agencies, the military and others on interrogation techniques.
Netflix produced a series earlier this year called “When They See Us.” It depicts the events surrounding the “Central Park Jogger Case.” That case resulted in rape and assault convictions of several juveniles, who were later exonerated. The series depicts the aggressive interrogation techniques used by the New York City detectives. As depicted in the series, the juveniles were struck, deprived food or bathroom breaks and subjected to continuous hours of interrogation.
At one point in the final episode, a District Attorney says to one of the detectives:
“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision. The Reid Technique has been universally rejected.”
That piece of dialogue is the centerpiece of the libel suit. And it sets up two arguments. First, according to the complaint, it implies that the Reid Technique calls for withholding food bathroom breaks and parental supervision. And Reid denies that’s the case. The Reid Technique doesn’t include any of those techniques, according to the complaint.
The other argument is the last part of the line – that the Reid Technique has been universally rejected. Again, Reid contends that is not the case, and indeed, according to the complaint, the Reid Technique is actually well regarded.
Interestingly, in the show, the detective responds to the lawyer’s comment about the Reid Technique by contending: “ I don’t even know what the f***ing Reid Technique is. Okay? I know what I was taught. I know what I was asked to do and I did it.” Given that dialogue, Netflix may argue that whatever the cop was doing, it wasn’t the Reid Technique.
On the other part of the statement the defense may be a little more complicated. Reid’s complaint notes that another Netflix show, produced before “When They See Us,” touted the effectiveness of the Reid Technique. In “Making a Murderer” Season Two, the Reid Technique is described as “the most widely used interrogation technique in the country.” The show also pointed out the ways in which the Reid Technique was not properly followed in the interrogation of a minor with disabilities, who was the subject of that show.
Reid’s complaint is clearly trying to use Netflix’s own content against it. We’ll see how it all plays out.