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.
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.