VidAngel, a company that enables the filtering of adult content from TV and movies, is facing a lawsuit from some of the biggest names in film: the Walt Disney Company, Lucasfilms, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. The four industry giants claim that the video streaming service is infringing on its copyrighted material.
According to the lawsuit, Disney and the plaintiffs are suing for copyright infringement and for violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The plaintiffs also contend that the Utah-based movie filtering service does not have authorization to use its films and has failed to pay for the licensing of titles.
The irony is that VidAngel, a company intending to help families filter unwanted content, is being sued by Disney, a film and TV entity known to produce some of the more family-friendly material.
Several highly-regarded TV and film watchdogs are chiming in on the issue.
Asked if he thought VidAngel was pirating content, Parents Television Council (PTC) President Tim Winter was clear about his convictions, telling The Christian Post during an interview on Monday:
"The answer is, 'No.' They (VidAngel) are doing it (streaming content) lawfully. They are doing it properly," he said.
"What they're doing is they're actually buying physical copies of the DVDs, and then as a subscriber, you then purchase from them that DVD copy, and then you have the right to stream it because you own it, you bought it, and then what you are able to do is that you are able to sell it back to VidAngel for part of the purchase price."
Winter told CP that VidAngel's initial point of sale is key. "So it's a very important distinction that the VidAngel procedure is including. It's not just they're taking some movie and streaming it for profit without giving Disney any money. They're actually paying Disney for a copy of the DVD."
The PTC president said Disney's current business structure forces VidAngel to take the risk of paying for thousands of DVDs, not knowing if customers will make a purchase.
Winter added that reselling DVDs was also a big risk. "VidAngel has to buy a bunch of copies and hope that they've estimated correctly about how many that are not going to be reselling."
MovieGuide Founder and Publisher Dr. Ted Baehr, who used to be an attorney in the U.S. Attorney's of the district of New York, also supports VidAngel.
"Something is not a law until a court decides that it's legal or illegal," he told The Christian Post during an interview on Monday.
In VidAngel's case Baehr said, "If you or I buy a DVD we can do anything we want with it because it's ours."
Baehr likened VidAngel's case to his days in law school when there had been a dispute over the airspace between a PanAm building in New York City that had been constructed over Grand Central Station.
"So we were trying to figure out what value was a piece of an apartment hanging in mid-air, full of nothing, over the Grand Central Station … Now [regarding VidAngel] you're not just talking about a space in the air … you're now talking about a space — in a space — in a space — in somebody's electronic thought box. It would make 'The Matrix' look like a simple equation."
Baehr's bottom line on VidAngel: "I think from the act, and from the intention, and from the classic point of view, that once you buy something, you can feed it through your shredder, you can do anything you want with it … "
Baehr, however, is not in total agreement with the services VidAngel offers. "I don't think just whitewashing something or just erasing the foul language is a solution … There's a point in which VidAngel's work is solutary and beneficial for families. I think it's like seventy or eighty percent beneficial … "
"The court will make the law when it decides on this case."
Recently, the plaintiffs in the case against VidAngel asked a federal judge to force the video streaming company to shut down its operations while the suit is pending, and has requested a jury trial. VidAngel has filed a countersuit to prove that it is in fact not pirating copyrighted material.
VidAngel may have been blindsided by the lawsuit, as suggested in a recent statement from the company's CEO, Neal Harmon, which stated:
"We wish they (Disney and plaintiffs) would have let us know they had issue with VidAngel back in July 2015 when we wrote them a letter to inform them about VidAngel's lawful service."
Apparently that did not occur.
Harmon explained, however, that VidAngel has hired "Great Hollywood attorneys," and that it is armed for a courtroom battle, saying, "We're ready."
The Christian Post obtained this joint statement from Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. from Paul McGuire of Warner Bros. Corporate Communications regarding the services of VidAngel:
"VidAngel continues to invoke the Family Movie Act (FMA) to distract from its unauthorized activities. Plaintiffs are not challenging the FMA; rather, they are challenging VidAngel's unlicensed streaming service. As stated in the complaint: 'Nothing in the FMA gives VidAngel the right to copy or publicly perform' Plaintiffs' copyrighted movies and television shows without authorization. 'Nor does the FMA give VidAngel the right to circumvent the technological protection measures on DVDs and Blu-ray discs.' Plaintiffs believe that VidAngel's antitrust counterclaims are without merit and have filed a motion to dismiss them."