Hollywood studios sue popular filtering service VidAngel

by Michael Foust , Guest Reviewer |

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – Four major Hollywood studios have filed suit against VidAngel, a movie streaming service that is popular among families and allows parents to filter out objectionable content.

In the 20-page lawsuit, Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros claim that VidAngel is operating an unlicensed video-on-demand (VOD) streaming service that "blatantly violates the Copyright Act."

If successful, the suit could put the young, growing company out of business. For its part, VidAngel officials say they remain confident their service is legal. They have hired Baker Marquart, a law firm that won a copyright ruling for FilmOn, another Internet-based company.

The lawsuit is no small matter for families who want to have a movie night -- but without the language, violence and sexuality that encompass so many Hollywood hits. Such families currently have two choices: ClearPlay and VidAngel. ClearPlay's filtering service works through physical DVDs and through streaming rentals on Google Play, while VidAngel works through Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV and smartphone or tablet apps. Both allow families to customize their filters.

ClearPlay was not named in the lawsuit. It survived a round of suits more than a decade ago when Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, which allows companies to sell DVD players that skip objectionable content as long as the disks are not altered. (Companies that sold or rented out physically altered DVDs did go out of business.)

VidAngel says it is protected by that 2005 law; the movie studios disagree. The company has been particularly popular because of its price. Under the model, a user buys a digital streaming movie for $20, and then sells it back, making the final price either $1 (SD) or $2 (HD). The company's slogan: "Watch movies however the bleep you want."

Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel, told the Christian Examiner that company officials conducted a survey of 900 Americans, asking if they would filter out inappropriate content if they could.

"Almost half of parents said that they would," Harmon said. "And so we realized that there was still a market."

Harmon and his brothers are all parents of small children, and he said they had a self-interest in launching the service.

"We love great content, and there's content we want to share with our families that has material that we don't want to introduce to them yet," Harmon told the Christian Examiner. "And there's material that we would rather prefer to opt out of, too."

For information on either company, visit VidAngel.com or ClearPlay.com.