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Family-friendly video-filtering site loses copyright battle with Hollywood bigwigs

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The company allowed users to filter objectionable content out of movies and TV shows

Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

VidAngel, a streaming service that edited potentially objectionable content out of movies, has lost a copyright lawsuit filed by Disney, Warner Bros. and Fox.

What happened?

The studios contended that VidAngel was an "unlicensed VOD [video on demand] streaming service."

VidAngel would legally sell customers individual DVDs for $20, but hold onto the physical discs. The company would then allow the customers to stream an edited version of the movie or TV show, and sell the DVD back to VidAngel when they were done for the full cost minus $1 for every day the DVD was owned by the customer. By using this method, VidAngel could market itself as a streaming service that charged $1 per day to stream movies (or $2 if those movies were in HD).

Part of the complaint focused on how VidAngel's methods allowed it to offer movies when they had come out on DVD but were not yet available on other streaming platforms.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr. ruled that VidAngel's work was not protected under fair use or the First Amendment. The judge said that VidAngel's practice of selling the physical DVDs to users was not a valid defense, since the video that the consumers streamed came from an edited copy on a computer and not from the disc they had bought.

VidAngel had hoped that it would be protected by the Family Movie Act of 2005, which "Exempts from copyright and trademark infringement, under certain circumstances: (1) making limited portions of the audio or video content of a motion picture for private home viewing imperceptible; or (2) the creation of technology that enables such editing."

The judge, however, ruled that "the FMA did not apply because VidAngel's filtered transmissions were not from 'authorized copies' of the work as required for protection under the FMA."

VidAngel said in a blog post that the judge's decision "rendered the 2005 Family Movie Act meaningless, subverting the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives in Congress." It also said that it plans to continue to fight the ruling.

Hasn't this happened before?

VidAngel isn't the first company to face such a lawsuit. In 2006, CleanFlicks, CleanFilms, Family Flix USA, and Play It Clean Video which all provided a similar service, lost a legal battle against a number of studios, including Sony, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Disney, as well as against 16 directors, including Robert Redford and Steven Spielberg. The judge in this case ruled that the companies had violated the copyright of these films by editing out things like nudity and profanity.

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