VidAngel is a company that charges customers for Hollywood films stripped of profanity, nudity, and excessive violence. Their goal is to help families — but some major movie studios have won a preliminary injunction to shut it down.
“Watch movies however the BLEEP you want,” reads VidAngel’s website. Its goal as stated is, “VidAngel’s mission is to ensure families everywhere have the option to filter content as they wish.”
Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox Inc., and Time Warner Inc. don’t seem to agree with the merits of that mission, as the companies have been embroiled in a lawsuit with VidAngel — the injunction marking a major victory for them.
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“We are seeking a stay of this injunction, but if our efforts fail, we will need to take down the movies of all major studios. Now the good news,” said VidAngel in a statement posted on its website. “This is the first battle in a long war. We will launch an immediate appeal. And unlike previous filtering companies, we have the funds to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. We’re committed to protecting your right to watch filtered movies in your home.”
The movie studios claim the company breaks copyright laws and has negatively affected revenue. VidAngel’s strategy for releasing its stripped-down movies begins with a legally bought copy of a film. It then “rips” that copy online. For only $1, customers can watch these new releases based on whatever filters they choose, which VidAngel implements.
The studios argue the filtering can be minimal and the way in which VidAngel creates these new versions undermines release strategies. Last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” for instance, was reportedly released through VidAngel before regular video on demand services.
“VidAngel flaunts its interference with exclusive windows as a competitive advantage over authorized services by expressly promoting titles that are available on VidAngel but ‘NOT on Netflix,'” said the studios in their complaint.
The question at hand is how VidAngel can legally release those movies. Other companies have fought for the right to filter material out of Hollywood movies before.
VidAngel, meanwhile, sees actions taken by the previously mentioned studios as simply the latest step in the fight against filtering services. “Hollywood studios have followed a repeated pattern in their decades-long campaign to put movie filtering services out of business by seeking a shut-down decision in trial court,” said VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “We will aggressively pursue an appeal and take this case to a higher level where we have always believed we will ultimately prevail.”
VidAngel’s case is not entirely without support or an argumentative basis. The company’s main challenge is that it’s working within the parameters of a 2005 law called the Family Movie Act, which authorizes companies to filter movies with objectionable content. The question at hand is how VidAngel can legally release those movies. Other companies have fought for the right to filter material out of Hollywood movies before.
CleanFlicks was a service that edited objectionable content out of movies, but it was forced to shut down after a legal battle with 16 movie directors. The judge presiding over the 2006 case called the Utah-based business “illegitimate.”
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Other filtering companies named in the suit that provided similar services were told to cease their actions and turn over all inventory to the proper movie studios.
And the battle between filtering companies and Hollywood goes back even further than the CleanFlicks fight — which was shown in a documentary entitled, “Cleanflix.” It can be said to go back as far as 1998, when the owners of Sunrise Family Video edited “Titanic” to remove a famous nude scene for $5 — and caused a stir with filmmakers and studios.
Since then, it’s been a constant tug of war between objecting studios directors and filtering services. VidAngel, run by four Mormon brothers in Utah, has the public support of prominent figures like Tim Winter, the president of the Parents Television Council, and others who have published statements through the VidAngel website — but the company is still facing an uphill battle.
Though the new court order would suggest the case of Disney Enterprises Inc. v. VidAngels Inc. is going the way of previous battles, it’s clear there is a large and demanding audience in America looking for content to be filtered to better fit their tastes. The case could end up being a landmark in displaying how Hollywood studios will choose to proceed with these filtering companies — whether they will find a way to accommodate a need many consumers have or whether they will continue to fight to shut these services down.