Utah-based VidAngel responds to lawsuit filed by Disney, Warner Bros. and others

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A screen capture of VidAngel's landing page.

UTAH COUNTY — The CEO of Utah-based company VidAngel is responding to a lawsuit filed by several Hollywood studios, who claim the company illegally circumvents restrictions on discs in order to grant viewers unlawful access to content.

According to legal documents linked by VidAngel, the lawsuit was filed June 9 by Disney, Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. The suit alleges that VidAngel operates a video-on-demand, or VOD, service but does not have authorization and does not pay for the rights for the films they stream.

The lawsuit claims the company circumvents protection measures on DVD and Blu-ray discs to create unauthorized copies that they then stream to their customers, who purchase the movies for $20 but can return them after one day for a credit of $19. VidAngel bills the service as akin to a rental but with the benefits of ownership, specifically the ability to censor movies for things like profanity or nudity.

The lawsuit further claims the practices of VidAngel allow them to offer movies via streaming before they are available for online distribution. The lawsuit specifically claims VidAngel allowed viewers to watch “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for $1 a day before the movie was available for single-day access. The plaintiffs claim this early-access is marketed as a feature by VidAngel.

In reference to the “ownership of the films”, the lawsuit states: “It does not matter whether VidAngel sells or rents the movies. In either case, VidAngel would need copyright owner consent to circumvent access controls on protected discs, make copies of that content, and stream performances of the content to the public. VidAngel does not have consent to do any of these things. And, VidAngel is not ‘selling’ movies. VidAngel is simply providing an unauthorized dollar-a-day VOD rental service.”

VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon posted a response to the lawsuit on the company’s website:

“Fans, customers and supporters,

Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros have filed a complaint against VidAngel in federal court. We wish they would have let us know they had issue with VidAngel back in July 2015 when we wrote them a letter to inform them aboutVidAngel’s lawful service. However, we’ve hired great Hollywood attorneys. We’re as confident now as we were when we launched that filtering a DVD or Blu-Ray you own on your favorite devices is your right. We’re ready. More to come.

Sincerely,

Neal Harmon, CEO”

The link regarding “lawful service” connects to an explanation regarding the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005. VidAngel explains the law gives people the right to modify content for viewing in their own household. The company claims that because they do not decide what to edit, but merely give viewers editing tools, they are not violating copyright law.

However, the lawsuit disagrees with that assessment, pointing out the law references an “authorized copy” of the work when it comes to permissions to modify the content for home-viewing.

“Nothing in the [Family Movie Act of 2005] gives VidAngel the right to copy or publicly perform Plaintiffs’ copyrighted content without authorization. Nor does the FMA give VidAngel the right to circumvent the technological protection measures on DVDs and Blu-ray discs that safeguard access to Plaintiff’s’ content. This Complaint does not challenge the FMA or businesses acting lawfully under it. This Complaint does challenge VidAngel’s operation of a business that goes far beyond conduct allowed under the FMA and that is based on the unlawful exploitation of Plaintiffs’ rights.”