VidAngel Bows to Judge’s Order and Shuts Down

VidAngel logo
Courtesy of VidAngel

VidAngel, the family-friendly filtering service, has bowed to a federal judge’s order and shut down its site completely.

Judge Andre Birotte ordered the company to cease operations on Dec. 12, issuing an injunction at the request of Disney, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, which have complained that the service is pirating their content. The company sought a stay of the injunction, but on Thursday Birotte rejected that request, prompting VidAngel to shut down.

“It is not a fun time for us right now,” said Neal Harmon, the company’s CEO, in an interview with Variety. “It is definitely causing us harm… This is traditionally the biggest time of the year for movie watching. We have hundreds of thousands of customers planning on watching filtered content, and instead this is what they get.”

In seeking the stay, Harmon had warned that an immediate shutdown would create a customer service nightmare. VidAngel allows customers to watch mainstream movies while filtering out objectionable content such as nudity or offensive language. Customers “buy” movies for $20, watch them on VidAngel’s site or its streaming apps, and then “sell” them back to the company.

As of now, all commerce on the site has shut down. Harmon said that customers who cannot access their movies can get their purchase refunded, or may receive an unfiltered DVD copy of the movie in the mail. Customers can also cash out their VidAngel credit. Harmon said that so far, only a few customers have asked for disc shipments. There has been an increase in cash-outs of store credit.

“There have also been people who said, ‘I want to donate my credit to the litigation,'” Harmon said.

The company contends that filtering is explicitly permitted under the Family Movie Act, and has vowed to take its case all the way to the Supreme Court. Company officials are referring to the shutdown as a “hiatus.” David Quinto, the company’s general counsel, said that if the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal were to grant the company’s request for an emergency stay, then the site could be back up and running within weeks.

But in the meantime, the company is also planning to offer licensed content on the site in the near future. The company has already announced plans to distribute a handful of family-friendly independent movies. It also is preparing to offer a “behind the litigation” documentary about VidAngel, as well as family-friendly standup comedy performances filmed at the VidAngel headquarters.

The company recently raised $10 million in a crowdfunding campaign, and is planning on using that money in part to upgrade the service and prepare for a relaunch. The company, based in Provo, Utah, has guaranteed that none of its employees will be laid off for at least 30 days, according to Quinto.

“Our company has the cash to weather the storm,” Quinto said. “So we’re not going out of business. We may have a lot of work to do to try to regain lost customers and restore customer confidence. And it’s vitally important that we try to hang on to all our employees.”

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  1. Chris and Kids says:

    MOVIE WATCHERS WANT THIS SERVICE! ! With Vidangel we can edit out language and nudity and are able to enjoy hundreds of movies we wouldn’t watch without the edits. Let’s hope ‘Hollywood’ will accept the payments from Vidangel so tens of thousands of people can enjoy watching movies again.

    • rodittis says:

      If you want this service, then you should write to VidAngel to stop trying to get around licensing fees. That’s what the lawsuit is about — not the filtering. There’s no way VidAngel was covering the licensing fees with the $1 they were getting from each movie.

  2. Patrick says:

    I haven’t watched any “R” movies in years because I got tired of offensive content that adds absolutely nothing to the movie. With VidAngel I’ve been able to enjoy many of those movies – these are sales the film industry would’ve never seen without VidAngel. They need to do the math; there is a market here.

    • rodittis says:

      Hollywood is more than happy to service this market … as long as it gets paid. That’s what this lawsuit is about — the licensing, not the filtering. It’s illegal to buy or rent a DVD and then stream it for a profit ( or even for free ). Hollywood closed that loophole a long time ago. Think of it this way – renting a popular movie to stream from legitimate services like amazon or vudu is about $5 per rental. How in the world would VidAngel cover this with the $1 fee they’re essentially charging?
      The sad thing is it didn’t need to be like this. VidAngel could have squared away the licensing upfront, charged their users a bit more and everybody would have been happy.

  3. Brad Reedy says:

    I keep hearing people say VidAngle has a good case. What’s curious to me is why no one is talking about the company before that from 2011 that has a similar business model that was sued and closed there doors called “Zediva”. Zediva’s goal was to “rent” and avoid licensing and streaming a tangible DVD. VidAngle’s goal is to “sell” you a tangible DVD that you pay $20 and then sell it back to them for $19 both models have a tangible DVD that avoids licensing.

    • John B says:

      Yay! I get to do a mea culpa! Okay, I misunderstood what VidAngel was doing. They were allowing you to view their censored content while you were in ownership of the disc. Okay, got it.

      The problem is … what they were doing is still illegal for two reasons.

      When you own a disc, you have a license to view the contents of that disc but you do not have the rights to alter the contents of that disc. Format-shifting, like ripping a disc to make a video file for a media server, is still a legal grey area, but even the judge ruled that format-shifting is still fair use. Still, format shifting does not alter the actual movie itself, just the way it’s viewed and the format that it’s stored in. Once you alter the actual content to suit your tastes, you’ve crossed a line into illegal territory, which is what VidAngel was doing.

      Secondly, any commercial entity that streams content must negotiate with the studios to license that content specifically for streaming. This is why movies appear and disappear from places like Netflix and Amazon every month — the existing license ends for some movies and new licenses are enabled for others. VidAngel never bothered to negotiate licensing content with the studios; and even if they did, the studios would almost certainly not have licensed censored content. Even at that, ownership of a DVD does not entitle you to have the contents of that DVD streamed to you from a commercial entity just because you own the disc.

      So, I initially misread what VidAngel was doing, but the facts are that their implementation methods were still blatantly illegal. Just because there’s demand doesn’t make it right. I still say that they should look into perhaps manufacturing their own DVD player, whether hardware or software, and provide timecode files to skip unwanted scenes or drop audio. That’s still allowed by law.

    • John B says:

      You do NOT have a tangible disc that avoids licensing because when you sell that disc back you also lose all of your rights to view the content of that disc. All associated rights go back to VidAngel. The license with that disc does not allow altering the contents of the disc nor does it allow broadcasting of that disc, which is what VidAngel was doing. And because you sold it back you have absolutely no rights to view the contents of that disc. You had those rights when the disc was in your hands, but you lost them when VidAngel paid you for you to return the disc.

      The people who are saying that they had a good case clearly do not understand the legal issues involving disc content licensing. VidAngle absolutely did not have a good case. They were providing you with access to a disc that you no longer owned and therefore violated the licensing terms of every disc they streamed. That’s why Hollywood went after them.

  4. If I create something, I want the vision of what I created to be what you consume. If you do not like the content of what I have created, than your choice is to not consume it. Changing someone’s content to make it more palatable to you personally is wrong in my opinion. There are movies I don’t want to see, books I am not a fan of and art that I don’t enjoy, buying versions of any of those things that allow me to self-censor them is a disservice to the artists who created them. You are not required to see a movie, watch a TV show or listen to music that has content you find objectionable, why should anyone be allowed to alter someone else’s vision so that it’s more appealing to someone’s individual ideals and aesthetic? Ultimately, you can always create your own content that is more appealing to your sensibilities without having to alter someone else’s vision. Just my opinion.

    • rodittis says:

      I promise you Hollywood is more than willing to sacrifice artist integrity for money. The issue here isn’t filtering but licensing. If VidAngel had negotiated streaming license fees with Hollywood instead of attempting this “end run” around the law, this lawsuit wouldn’t be happening.
      Now, would some studios refuse to license some of their movies knowing they would be altered? Yeah, I imagine. But they would be in the minority. It’s all about the benjamins…

    • Chris says:

      I appreciate your opinion, but often directors add R rated language or sex in order to get an “R” rating because the studios require it or they are going for shock value. Movies are often edited of content so they can be shown on national TV and studios/directors don’t complain about that at all.
      Editing out the gratuitous 30+ F-bombs from a movie does not feel like taking away from some ‘artistic vision.’ Because of VidAngel we’ve been able to enjoy Mission Impossible, Marvel movies and X-Men series. Not exactly ‘art’ but they are entertaining and wouldn’t be watched without VidAngel.

      • John B says:

        That’s fine, but that still does not give you the right to alter someone else’s content to suit your tastes. I agree that a lot of what Hollywood does is gratuitous; but they are under no obligation to remove content for your approval, nor are you entitled to acquire censored content to fit your values. If a movie is too rough for your tastes, sorry but it sucks to be you in that scenario.

        Now, that said, the real issue here is not so much what VidAngel was doing but how they’re doing it. When you sell that disc back to them, you lose all rights to view it because you transfer all of your rights for that movie back to VidAngel. I have no idea where they thought they were in the clear with that because that alone is blatant copyright infringement. If you don’t own the disc then you have no legal right to view the contents of that disc, modified or otherwise.

        The law is very clear on this, however, in that you may use a PLAYER that will filter such content for you for discs that you own. Such players instead use timecodes to determine if they should skip a section or drop audio. Because the contents of the disc are not altered and therefore there is no infringement; but the key is that you still own that DVD and therefore have the license. Perhaps VidAngel should instead look into offering their own player to perform these functions instead.

        Regardless, it doesn’t matter how much demand there is for their services. Their method was in very plain and clear violation of the law. That’s why they were shut down.

  5. Ryan Heath says:

    his was an awesome and much needed service and the movie companies are still making their money. This is so wrong. This is a good thing for families and this judge needs to be disbarred. Nobody this stupid should be anywhere near a court room.

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