You're entitled to a meager piece of the Wal-Mart/Netflix lawsuit

You're entitled to a meager piece of the Wal-Mart/Netflix lawsuit

If you’re a current or even former Netflix subscriber, chances are you got an email recently about your inclusion in a class-action lawsuit filed against the company and Wal-Mart, one that’s been kicking around for at least a couple of years. The root of the complaint: Wal-Mart and Netflix stand accused of making an unlawful deal that would allow them to dominate the DVD market, with Wal-Mart agreeing to shut down its mails-by-DVD service and Netflix, in turn, promoting Wal-Mart’s DVD sales.

Their pact was mostly ignored by people who don’t particularly think about corporate monopolies, but in 2009, a group of subscribers banded together to fight back and file a lawsuit claiming collusion. Last year a California judge allowed it to become a class action pursuit on behalf of all Netflix subscribers who were members anytime between May 19, 2005 and September 2 of this year. And while Netflix continues to fight the case, it seems Wal-Mart has given in and agreed to an out-of-court settlement. Because Wal-Mart loves you. (Also because it’s way cheaper and easier. )

As you possibly know from skimming the email, if you are or were a Netflix subscriber, you’re already in the lawsuit whether you want to be or not. In fact, the only way to opt out—and thus reserve the right to sue Wal-Mart about this on your own—is to send a letter to the claims administrators handling the case. Do nothing, meanwhile, and you’ll automatically be entitled to a piece of the $27 million settlement that Wal-Mart has just agreed to—albeit a very small, most likely useless piece.

That’s because, as with so many class action lawsuits, more than 25-percent of the settlement will go straight to the lawyers, with the original plaintiffs only scoring around $5,000 apiece. What’s left over will then be divvied up among everyone else who bothers to fill out a claim form before Feb. 14—and as CNN points out, if only half of Netflix’s estimated 24 million subscribers put their names in, everyone would get around $1.50 apiece. And as you’ll also notice from reading the email, that $1.50 will be in the form of a Wal-Mart gift card—because everyone loves Wal-Mart.

Anyway, naturally this has inspired a lot of skepticism from people who feel that it’s just a scam to have Netflix turn over its customer database to Wal-Mart (or Rust Consulting, the company tasked with handling the class action suit), thus setting you up for even more unwanted spam from Wal-Mart or from the third parties they may sell it to, or whatever other insidious things corporations do when they start hoarding mailing addresses. (For example, what if they start sending Wal-Mart greeters to your house to greet you in the middle of the night? That would certainly be invasive!)

Of course, if the whole point were to be able to send you things you didn’t ask for, well, that’s already happened, since you received this email—and hey, to opt out, you still have to provide your information, so they’ve got you there. So if that’s what you’re concerned about, well, guess you should have thought of that before you subscribed to Netflix. Maybe your $1.50 Wal-Mart card will set things right? You could buy a reasonably sized soda, and then toast to the lawyers.