Video filtering company VidAngel has been ordered to pay Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. $62.4 million in damages after a Los Angeles U.S. District Court ruling.
VidAngel, launched in 2013, is an entertainment platform that was created to help families filter out language, nudity, violence, and other content from movies and TV series. The independent company made national news in 2016 when Walt Disney Co., Lucasfilms, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. all filed a lawsuit against it, claiming the video streaming service was infringing on their copyrighted material.
The Hollywood studios originally sought about $120 million in damages because they claimed VidAngel had committed willful copyright infringement. The punishment for that would result in a maximum penalty of $150,000 per movie title. In total, the Provo, Utah-based filtering company streamed about 800 titles owned by the studios.
VidAngel argued that it sought legal advice before launching the company and operated within the law. In court on Monday, the company's defense was that VidAngel “committed innocent infringement and should, therefore, be required to pay much less,” according to ksl.com.
Nevertheless, the filtering company was found guilty of willful infringement but is only required to pay $75,000 per movie title, and an additional $1 million fine for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“We disagree with today’s ruling and have not lessened our resolve to save filtering for families one iota," VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "VidAngel plans to appeal the district court ruling and explore options in the bankruptcy court. Our court system has checks and balances, and we are pursuing options on that front as well.”
The Parents Television Council also issued a statement following the ruling in Disney v. VidAngel.
“After sitting in the federal courtroom for the better part of a week, listening to the arguments on both sides of the case, I was absolutely baffled by the jury’s conclusion that VidAngel’s actions were willful violations of the copyright law. I am deeply disappointed that the jury chose to award $62 million in damages to Disney and Warner Brothers, and I fear that this judgment today may sound the death knell for content filtering unless the Congress steps forward to update the Family Movie Act of 2005,” said PTC President Tim Winter.
Winter went on to share that VidAngel did everything necessary before launching its disk-based streaming service which showed that they acted in “good faith.”
“Multiple witnesses in the case testified about the company’s efforts to comply with each and every word of the Family Movie Act,” Winter continued. “VidAngel hired one of the most respected attorneys in Hollywood to counsel them through the process to ensure compliance with the Family Movie Act. And that attorney — who spent much of his career helping Hollywood studios to defend their copyright interests, and who had served as counsel for the Academy of Motion Pictures and the Oscars — wrote letters to the major studios before VidAngel had even launched its filtering service to explain exactly what they were doing. These are not the actions of some copyright pirate, as the attorneys for Disney successfully painted them out to be during the trial.”
Winter said he found it “beyond ironic” that a company such as Disney would sue to “prevent the filtering of graphic sex, violence, profanity and other explicit content from movies. Indeed it is tragic.”
Although the company heads said they're “disappointed” in the ruling, they're also motivated to continue their call in ensuring that Congress passes legislation that will bring the Family Movie Act “into the 21st century.”
After the initial lawsuit was filed, VidAngel bounced back and began using modern streaming platforms such as iOS, Android, and ROKU to enable families to stream and filter shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO through VidAngel's services, but was still banned from doing so with Disney films and other TV shows.
VidAngel's filtering system is accessible on any major device for $7.99 a month with the first month free. For more information or to sign up for the service, visit VidAngel.com.