Those of you who closely follow the subscription video-on-demand space have likely heard of VidAngel, a family-friendly SVOD service. VidAngel has been making headlines, not due to their success, but as a result of the lawsuit filed by Warner Brothers, Disney and Fox accusing VidAngel of not obtaining the proper licensing for some of their content. This December the court’s decision came down and VidAngel is being forced to cease streaming all content for which they have not obtained the proper licenses.
VidAngel’s service was based on the premise that you could rent a movie for $1, with a vast array of censorship options. You could watch any movie with any bad language replaced, or sexual scenes cut out. However, the problem was VidAngel was not only not receiving permission to edit these movies, they were not even getting permission to stream those movies. VidAngel was able to get away with this for as long as they did by “selling” a copy of the movie to a customer for $20 then selling it back to them for $19 after it had been viewed. They contended that since this was their process, their services were protected by the Family Movie Act of 2005. That sounds shady, and as it turns out, it is.
This all really hit the fan with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. VidAngel had the entire movie available to stream with various content edits days after the movie was released; before it was even supposed to be available for streaming services. This caused the studios to worry about VidAngel undercutting their windowing system for releasing their content first on DVDs, then via streaming services. The court agreed, finding VidAngel in direct violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A spokesperson from the Walt Disney Company sent this a message to Engadget:
“We are extremely gratified the court enjoined VidAngel’s unauthorized streaming service from infringing our copyrights and violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This case was never about filtering. The court recognized that the Family Movie Act does not provide a defense to VidAngel’s infringing acts of ripping, copying and streaming copyrighted movies and TV shows. We look forward to defending the court’s decision against any appeal by VidAngel.”
In response to this ruling VidAngel continues to double down, recently releasing a statement saying that they will “…aggressively pursue an appeal and take this case to a higher level where we have always believed we will ultimately prevail,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In addition to their appeal, VidAngel is looking to keep the company alive by moving forward with an aggressive plan to begin distributing original content in the coming year. According to VidAngel’s CEO Neal Harmon’s latest blog post, VidAngel plans to begin “…finding and creating family-friendly shows and movies so you can still watch quality content on VidAngel.” Consumers can expect to start seeing original content in 2017.
While the court’s injunction is a big win for the studios, VidAngel is clearly not out of the fight yet. This will be an interesting story to keep an eye on as it continues to develop.