Type of site
|Headquarters||Palo Alto, California, United States|
|Area served||United States|
|Founder(s)||Neal Harmon, Jeffrey Harmon, Daniel Harmon, and Jordan Harmon|
|Industry||Entertainment, Content filtering|
VidAngel is an American streaming video company that allows the user to skip distasteful content based on user preferences regarding profanity, nudity, sexual situations, and graphic violence.
Several big movie studios sued the company in 2016, claiming it broke copyright law by evading DVD copyright protection features and streaming altered videos without permission. In late 2016, the company was told to shut down its website until the trial. The company vowed to appeal, releasing a subscription-based app on Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Android TV, and Apple TV, for filtering Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO videos on June 13, 2017.
VidAngel was founded in 2013 and launched in 2014 in Provo, Utah as a startup company with six employees. In March 2014, the company said it had moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley, California.
In December 2016, VidAngel began a Regulation A+ securities offering (mini initial public offering) to get $5 million in investments. It met its goal after 28 hours and had over $10 million after five days. They assigned 42% of the $10 million to advertising and 26% to legal costs. Harmon Brothers, owned by VidAngel founders and officers Neal Harmon and Jeffery Harmon, will make the advertisements.
In December 2016, VidAngel was ordered to shut down its website until the trial. Neal Harmon replied that VidAngel would open a studio in 2017 to make "family friendly" content.
In June 2017, shortly after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied their request to lift the injunction, VidAngel announced a new streaming service for $7.99 per month to filter content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO. Only titles from studios not included in the lawsuit are available. In a June 2017 statement, Netflix noted: "We have not endorsed or approved the VidAngel technology".
VidAngel allows users to personally select filters for moments that the user deems objectionable. Content, such as nudity, profanity, and graphic violence in commercial content, are skippable on the current VidAngel platform. The customer must purchase the content from select streaming services, that can be connected to VidAngel. When the user purchases the content they obtain the right to apply filters to objectionable content in their home.
VidAngel cites the Family Movie Act of 2005 (FMA) as legally protecting customers' right to use their service to filter films. They say that under the FMA, they are allowed to stream filtered movies to customers as long as the movie is an authorized copy watched in the privacy of the home, and no permanent filtered copy is created. As noted below, all these arguments have been rejected by the courts.
According to VidAngel, they tried three different arrangements to legally filter movies in partnership with studios: teaming with Google to add filters to licensed films available on Google Play; buy a licensed movie on YouTube then apply filters to it; and buying discs directly from the studios. The studios rejected all three proposals, so VidAngel bought licensed discs from retail stores, and as of mid-2016 spent about a third of its revenue on DVDs.
On June 12, 2016, production companies such as Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, Disney, and Warner Bros. filed a federal lawsuit against VidAngel for circumventing copyright protection on DVDs and for unlicensed video streaming, accusing them of violating the DMCA. The case, Disney Enterprises, Inc. et al v. VidAngel, Inc., was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. VidAngel's defense is that members actually own a digital copy of the film when they stream it for $20 and VidAngel will buy it back for $19 and have a right to filter content under the Family Home Movie Act of 2005. VidAngel has filed a counterclaim against the companies alleging violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the preliminary hearing was held on November 14, 2016.
In the lawsuit VidAngel is being represented by a group of lawyers led by Peter Stris of Stris & Maher, a small but influential firm known for handling complex cases and arguments at the Supreme Court. Disney is being represented by a group of lawyers led by former Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
Judge Andre Birotte Jr., in a ruling on December 12, 2016, granted Disney's motion for a preliminary injunction, declaring that VidAngel had violated copyright laws by circumventing copyright protection technology on DVDs and by hosting the streamed content on VidAngel's computer servers without appropriate licensing and permission from copyright holders. The court also rejected VidAngel's Fair Use defense, noting as paraphrased in media about the case, "VidAngel does not add anything and the result has essentially the same entertainment value as the original, thus the fair use defense is unlikely to win out."
Judge Birotte's order blocked VidAngel from circumventing copyright protection features on DVDs and also ordered them to stop streaming movies, stating that the Family Movie Act requires that the filtered content comes from an "authorized copy" of the film, and the digital content VidAngel streamed was not an authorized copy. Shortly thereafter, VidAngel requested a stay of the preliminary injunction, claiming the company would suffer irreparable legal harm from not being able to operate while the case makes its way through the courts. VidAngel has vowed to fight the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. VidAngel announced intentions to obey the court's order to stop streaming effective December 30, 2016. However, in January 2017, VidAngel was found in contempt of court for continuing to add titles in violation of the court's order. For this infraction, they were fined $10,231.20 in legal costs incurred by Disney et al. After this ruling, Johnathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today wrote that VidAngel's public statements have consistently misrepresented the core legal issues in the case by characterizing the major film studios as opposed primarily to filtering adult content: "[T]he studios have repeatedly made it clear that the filtering is not the issue, its the unauthorized streaming and copy protection circumvention, nothing more."
VidAngel appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A hearing occurred June 8, 2017, where VidAngel requested an emergency stay of the injunction. VidAngel's request was denied and the injunction was upheld.
VidAngel requested an appeal or clarification of the injunction, specifically whether their new streaming-filter service was a violation of the injunction. Disney et al. responded with a request for an ex parte ruling, arguing that VidAngel violated procedural rules by not notifying Disney of their intentions of filing such an appeal or clarification. On August 2, 2017, Judge Birotte rejected VidAngel's request for appeal or clarification of the injunction.
On August 24, 2017 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction against VidAngel, quoting a statement from U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch that the Family Movie Act is not a defense for violation of copy protection measures or for violation of copyright law, and to suggest otherwise is "counter to legislative intent" of the Family Movie Act.
In September 2017, VidAngel filed its own lawsuit in a Utah federal court against affiliates of the studios, including Marvel Comics, Fox Broadcasting Company, Castle Rock Entertainment, MGM Studios, and others, seeking a declaratory judgment that its new streaming model is legal. After VidAngel reportedly decided to drop the case, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer dismissed this lawsuit on August 7, 2018.
In October 2017, VidAngel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a legal strategy to protect the company against the ongoing lawsuit and allow it to reorganize its business around its new streaming service. VidAngel estimated between $1 million and $10 million in liabilities, and approximately equal amounts of assets. The filing forces a pause on the lawsuit, but allows business to continue as usual. A statement on the company's blog announced: "VidAngel is not going away", that the company has "millions of dollars in the bank, and now generating millions in revenue," and stated its goal was "to reorganize the business around our new streaming model" to stay in business and pay damages should they ultimately lose the pending trial. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit characterized the bankruptcy as a delay tactic, noting that prior rulings indicate VidAngel would probably lose in court. An article in Utah's Deseret News further notes that the bankruptcy has provoked ire among some customers whose buy-back credits for DVD purchases are included in the bankruptcy among VidAngel's assets, preventing customers from cashing out these refunds while the bankruptcy is pending.
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