VidAngel Defends $1-Per-Film Streaming Service After Studios’ Copyright Suit

VidAngel logo
Courtesy of VidAngel

VidAngel, an online video service that allows consumers to watch major home-video releases in standard definition for $1, says that they have “hired great Hollywood attorneys” and are “confident” about their prospects after major studios sued them for copyright infringement.

Customers of VidAngel buy a movie online for $20, then have the option of setting filters to screen out objectionable content and watch the movie. The customer then sells back the movie for $19.

But in a lawsuit filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, The Walt Disney Co., Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. contend that VidAngel is “no different than many other unlawful online services.” They contend that the service appears to circumvent technological protection measures on DVDs and Blu-ray discs to create unauthorized copies that are then streamed to customers.

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In their suit, they contend that VidAngel has defended the legality of its service by pointing out that it is “selling,” not renting, the movies to its users, distinguishing it from the likes of Netflix and Hulu that forge pricey licensing agreements for studio movies.

“It does not matter whether VidAngel sells or rents movies,” their lawsuit says. “In either case, VidAngel would need copyright owner consent to circumvent access controls on protected discs, make copies of that content, and stream performances of the content to the public.”

In a joint statement, the studio plaintiffs said, “VidAngel is an unauthorized VOD streaming service, trying to undercut legitimate services like Netflix, Hulu and iTunes that license movies and TV shows from the copyright owners. This case isn’t about whether filtering is lawful and we are not challenging legal uses of the Family Movie Act.”

According to the lawsuit, VidAngel also claims that it is within its rights because of the Family Movie Act of 2005, which allows for the creation of technology to filter out objectionable content.

In a blog post, VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon wrote of the studios’ litigation, “We wish they would have let us know they had issue with VidAngel back in July 2015 when we wrote them a letter to inform them about VidAngel’s lawful service. However, we’ve hired great Hollywood attorneys. We’re as confident now as we were when we launched that filtering a DVD or Blu-ray you own on your favorite devices is your right. We’re ready.”

The studios contend that VidAngel is undercutting their deals with video-on-demand and streaming businesses and is able to offer $1 movies because it is not compensating copyright owners. They pointed out that the site even offered “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at that price even though VOD services did not yet have the rights to offer single-day access to the title.

An MPAA spokesman said, “This litigation has been brought by a number of MPAA studios, so it is appropriate for the plaintiffs themselves to respond to inquiries about the case. The MPAA strongly applauds efforts to stop unauthorized streaming services.”

The studios are seeking an injunction to halt the service as well as unspecified damages.

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  1. Talon says:

    There is clearly a large demand for this service and since the studios won’t fill it, it begs the question why studios won’t let other companies provide this service. Especially since the studios do get paid by purchases of the DVD and Blu-Ray discs.

    This lawsuit comes across as just another example of larger companies that are out-of-touch with their consumers and hence likely to be on their way to extinction.

  2. Can you Imagine a manufacturer selling a product to you and trying to tell you how you have to use it after you buy it? Or restricting you from selling it back or to someone else? We really own it Hollywood! You can’t tell us what to do in our own home with our own property. Get out of my business! You have my money so stop discriminating sales to people of religion. Its discriminatory and violates my constitutional rights. Just because VidAngel created a more efficient way of buying and selling than Ebay, you can’t say it is really just licensing. If I buy it off ebay, watch on my filtering technology and then sell it back on Ebay, it is the exact same thing and you know you cannot stop that.

  3. tlenker says:

    These studios all offer “uncut/ unrated/ uncensored” versions of their movies on DVD. Why not offer the filtered version as well? There really is a market for movies with no f-words. VidAngel has proven this. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood really does have an anti-family agenda. There must be someone good left in these studios. I hope they will speak up and do what’s right. It’s okay to offer choices.

  4. Micah Roberts says:

    I Agree with Joe Neuman, M Merrill Beth, and Conner Maupin. Hey studios! it is okay if someone beat you to the punch. You are only angry because someone else is successful. if you want to stick it to vidangel then try doing it yourself. There must be a demand for it because vidangel is successful.

  5. Erika Ward says:

    “How do the studios get paid? Before selling a movie, VidAngel lawfully purchases a DVD or Blu-Ray for every owner on its system (and stores the disc on the owner’s behalf in the VidAngel vault). The studios are compensated by the purchase of these discs.” (From VidAngel’s website)

  6. Micah Weatherhead says:

    @Chip — I’ve heard that they do the latter, though I don’t know for sure. I do know, though, that if you try to stream a movie that’s in high demand, they present you with the following options: (1) watch it now for $1, (2) watch it in a few days for free. That makes it seem like they have a limited number of copies.

  7. Chip Browne says:

    That I have the right to filter a DVD or Blu-ray I own on my favorite devices is not the issue. That VidAngel is not compensating the copyright owners is the issue.

    Am I to understand that VidAngel is buying ONE copy of the DVD, ripping it to their hard drive and reselling multiple copies to each of their customers along with the metadata and filtering system? Or is VidAngel purchasing ONE DVD from the copyright owners for EACH copy that they resell?

    • Tom says:

      Their website clearly says what their policies are. Go check it out! vidangel.com
      They purchase one Blu-Ray (for HD viewing) or DVD (for SD viewing) for each purchase by a customer.

    • matt nichols says:

      They say on their site that they have a copy for each customer that is streaming it. That copy would be assigned to a specific customer until it is bought back. If they never sell the copy back, it will remain in their name and not available for use by anyone else. This is what they say they do. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  8. Joe Neuman says:

    “They pointed out that the site even offered “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at that price ($1) even though VOD services did not yet have the rights to offer single-day access to the title.”

    Just to be clear I purchased “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” from Vidangel for $20. I selected the filters I wanted. Watched only the parts I wanted to. Then I sold the movie back to Vidangel for $19.

  9. M Merrill says:

    Come on studios & Netflix. Wake up and offer this service yourselves and increase your audience. They obviously wouldn’t be in business if there wasn’t a market for this.

  10. It makes absolutely no sense to me that there is even a lawsuit on this. I won’t watch certain movies, my children will not watch certain movies. If the studios were smart, they would provide the service of their own free will and choice. By doing this, they would remove the value of the middle man entirely. Where are their marketing teams?

    • CbinJ says:

      Or, you know, they could just make quality family friendly/ clean content movies that don’t need filtering. I’ve nothing against VidAngel, but I just can’t see wasting my time on movie that needs cut, filtered, edited and/or mutilated before I watch. There are a few movies I own where I’ll skip a scene or press mute (The King’s Speech or The Blind Side, for example) but if any doctoring beyond that is needed, I don’t even bother buying/ watching it.

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