VidAngel fights back, countersues Hollywood studios trying to shut it down

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |
VidAngel's physical copies of "The Renevant," referenced in the suit.

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – One month after being sued by four major Hollywood studios in an attempt to shut it down, the movie streaming and filtering service VidAngel has countersued, arguing that the studios have distorted "relevant facts" and that the service – popular among families – is perfectly legal.

In fact, VidAngel charges that the four studios -- Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros – have violated antitrust laws by limiting online filtering services only to a few companies.

In the 47-page counterclaim, VidAngel argues that its service does not infringe copyright laws and is protected by the Family Movie Act, which was signed into law in 2005 and protected companies (like ClearPlay) that sell DVD players that filter movies. VidAngel asserts that the law also shields companies that stream and filter films online.

The four studios sued VidAngel in June. In its countersuit – filed in a district court in California -- VidAngel asks that the studios' suit be dismissed.

VidAngel is a service that allows customers to buy a digital streaming movie for $20, and then sell it back, making the final price either $1 (SD) or $2 (HD) if it is kept for less than 24 hours. Families can filter out language, violence and sexuality, tweaking it to their preference. The company's slogan is: "Watch movies however the bleep you want."

The lawsuit explains VidAngel's legal position in more detail. Specifically, the company says it actually owns a DVD physical copy for each film it streams. When a movie is bought, "that disc is no longer available for sale." The lawsuit even includes a photograph of its more than 2,000 copies of The Renevant.

"Plaintiffs ... suggest they do not derive financial benefit from VidAngel's business," the lawsuit says. "In fact, the opposite is true. VidAngel spends over one-third of its gross revenues to lawfully purchase thousands of DVD and Blu-ray discs, which are then re-sold to VidAngel users."

VidAngel argues it is boosting the studios' revenues because most of its customers would not watch unfiltered movies.

The Family Movie Act, the lawsuit says, protects the company.

"Plaintiffs repeatedly suggest that VidAngel needs their permission to offer a filtering service, despite Congressional law which expressly authorizes VidAngel's service without need for any such consent," the suit says. "In enacting the Family Movie Act ('FMA'), Congress protected the right of families to filter and view content according to their personal preferences."

Services like VidAngel, the lawsuit says, are needed.

"Many Americans, especially parents, struggle to find ways to shield their children and others within their homes from viewing or listening to violence, sex, profanity and other objectionable content in television programs and motion pictures," the lawsuit says. "There is great demand for services that allow them to filter out elements the find objectionable from what they watch in the privacy of their homes. A recent survey conducted for VidAngel found that approximately 47% of parents want online filtering services."

Said Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel, in a press release, "We hope that the filing will help these studios to realize that they are asking the court to shut down a service that will allow millions to filter content for themselves and their children."