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When Are Closed Captions Required by Law? Here’s What You Need to Know

When are closed captions required by law?

RevBlogClosed CaptionsWhen Are Closed Captions Required by Law? Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’ve watched TV in a noisy bar or restaurant, you’ve probably benefitted from closed captions. And while you might have been counting on those captions to get you through a mediocre club sandwich, people with impairments need accurate and meaningful captions to enjoy any video content, period. That’s why in 2014, the FCC received over 1600 complaints regarding captioning calling television captions “inaccurate,” “gibberish,” “garbled,” “butchered,” and “incomprehensible”. And those complaints were just the tip of the iceberg.

These may seem like some harsh burns, but they’re nothing if not well-deserved. That’s exactly why the FCC set forth four guiding principles for the quality of captioning. Those are:

  • Accuracy — captions should be 100% on point, and perfectly reflect the dialogue and other sounds/music in the audio track
  • Synchronicity — captions need to line up perfectly and match with the timestamps on the video
  • Program Completeness — there can’t be any gaps or moments when the captions aren’t displayed
  • Placement — captions can’t cover up actors’ expressions, background settings, or anything else important to understanding the video

But these aren’t the only rules about captioning. Read on to learn more about video caption compliance and how it might impact the projects you’re working on.

1. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

In 1990, Congress passed a series of landmark anti-discrimination laws that require public and private organizations to take strides to accommodate those with recognized disabilities trying to use their services or goods. The ADA is most notorious for its rules about accessibility, but it also governs closed captioning. If a promotional video, PowerPoint presentation, or commercial is being played in a public place, it is legally required to be captioned.

A 2012 lawsuit against Netflix set legal precedent by defining the streaming service as a place of public accommodation. As a result, Netflix now includes captions on all video content — now you can binge with the sound muted and no one will know. The debate about whether or not websites like eBay or YouTube are places of public accommodation (and therefore subject to the rules of the ADA) is ongoing.

2. Rehabilitation Act

The act was passed in 1973 to prohibit disability discrimination, but has since grown into a bigger asset for those who need closed captions and other supports. Amendment 504 confirms that accessibility is a civil right, and declares that any agency or entity failing to meet standards can be sued. Amendment 508 governs how certain types of electronic media must be captioned, especially in education. That means that when a college professor at a public university films or records a lecture, they should be providing closed captions too.

3. 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was passed in 2010 as a defense of the rights of the disabled in the digital age. The law governs everything from hearing aids to telephones, and closed captions are no exception. To put it simply, anything that has ever been broadcast on television must be closed captioned by law. The act includes rolling deadlines to allow content managers to catch up on their backlogged content.

Video producers have 45 days after posting content to add captions. However, if your content has never aired on television, then this law doesn’t apply. Still, many individual vloggers, social media personalities, and major media companies choose to follow these rules anyway out of simple respect for members of their audience. For instance, NPR teamed up with several partners to provide live closed captioning of the 2008 presidential election, even though they’re a radio station. Talk about stepping up! Because of their efforts, many Americans were able to fully experience the excitement of live presidential election coverage for the first time.

How to Add Captions to Your Videos

There are two main options for adding captions to videos on your videos:

  • Closed Captions – A caption file is added to your video and viewers can turn them on and off in a variety of video platforms. You can order a caption file here and learn how to add caption files to your videos here.
  • Open Captions – Captions are added straight to your video, and they are permanent (always turned on). Rev can add open captions to your videos if you order captions here and click the “Burned-In Captions” checkbox at checkout.

open captions

Whether you are legally required to caption your videos, or just want to keep up with industry standards and trends, Rev guarantees 99% accuracy, a 24-hour return on videos shorter than an hour, and a captions editor to let you refine your content. Don’t limit your video’s reach by omitting captions and shutting out certain audience members. We’re here to help you make the change.