Hollywood attorney defends VidAngel from mega film companies targeting family-friendly filtering

by Michael Foust , Guest Reviewer |

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – More than two months after it was sued by four Hollywood studios seeking to put it out of business, the movie filtering service VidAngel continues to gain support.

The Utah-based company – which allows families to skip objectionable content in streamed movies – has brought on veteran intellectual property attorney David W. Quinto and also has received the support from two leading family-friendly organizations: the Parents Television Council and MovieGuide.

The hiring of Quinto is significant. For years he supported the interests of Hollywood, representing the Academy Awards and the Producers Guild of America, and he was an annual attendee at the Oscars. But he is now VidAngel's general counsel.

VidAngel was sued by Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Lucasfilm.

"I was very offended by what the studios were doing," Quinto told the Christian Examiner.

The studios claim that VidAngel needs a streaming license to operate, but Quinto counters that VidAngel is protected by the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, which Congress passed during the midst of a debate over filtering services. The law is sometimes called the "Family Movie Act."

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"The Family Movie Act provides that if a homeowner buys a lawful copy of content – a DVD disk – that homeowner by law has a right to ask a third party – here, VidAngel – to filter content that that family finds objectionable," Quinton said, explaining VidAngel's legal position. "And that the third party, here VidAngel, has the right to stream that content, filtered as requested and specified by the family to the family – provided that the third party never makes a permanent copy of the filtered content. That's what the law says. There is no requirement in there that the third party purchase any license. In fact, that would be a form of double charge."

VidAngel customers pay $20 to purchase a streamed movie, and then can sell it back for $18 (HD) or $19 (SD). The service allows families to filter out sexuality, violence and objectionable language. Although customers may not realize it, each movie they purchase has a corresponding physical DVD in the VidAngel library that they are purchasing.

"VidAngel buys thousands of disks – thousands," Quinto said. "It sells the disks to its customers. Every disk is individually barcoded. There is a specific disk owned by a specific customer. And when a customer owns a disk, no one else can watch content of that disk streamed. When VidAngel buys the disk, the studios profit from that."

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said during a July appearance on KPCC-FM in California that there is a huge market for VidAngel.

"When you have a dearth of content out that there is inappropriate for most families to watch together, it's wonderful ... to see a technology that would allow a family to consume a wonderful movie that it might not otherwise be able to consume," Winter said.

He made the comparison to the Broadway show "Jersey Boys," which except for "a couple of F-bombs" would be appropriate for his daughter.

In fact, data from VidAngel shows customers use filters even for so-called family films. For example, customers use an average of 13 filters for Disney's Zootopia — skipping, say, the nudist spa scene.

MovieGuide, which reviews movies from a Christian perspective for parents, has posted two stories in recent weeks on its website friendly to VidAngel's cause.

Quinto said the lawsuit could have a major impact on parental choices.

"The people who know their children best are their parents," Quinto said. "It's fundamental that parents should be able to control what their children see and hear. I was offended that the studios are trying to deny the American public that right. I feel very strongly that were the studios to succeed, that would have an adverse effect on the nation as a whole."