×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Movie-Streaming Sites Claim Legal Cover With DVD-Ownership Models

Startups MovieSwap, VidAngel offering members online access to video content ripped from discs

Hollywood studios, which have long patrolled the Internet to stamp out copyright-infringing activity, are grappling with a new gambit to sidestep their usage restrictions: websites claiming that users who own DVDs can stream those movies any which way they want.

The latest trying this approach is French startup MovieSwap, which says it has compiled a library of more than 200,000 DVDs. Subscribers will be able to choose to either send in their physical DVD collections and then be able to stream them online; “swap” them with other users; or pay to receive DVDs that are added to their digital collections. “This process ensures that users are always swapping one DVD for another, thus making the process legal,” the company said in announcing the service.

MovieSwap on Tuesday launched a Kickstarter campaign and by Wednesday afternoon had raised $24,456 out of its $38,464 goal from 870 backers, who are promised free access for life after the service first launches in beta this summer.

Another service, Utah-based VidAngel, takes a different tack. Members can effectively rent HD streaming access to new releases for $2, after they purchase a DVD of the title for $20. They can then “sell back” the DVD to VidAngel and receive an $18 credit toward their next movie purchase.

Are either of these services kosher? No way, says one exec at a large studio: Such sites “are not in any way authorized to either rip or stream our content,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

The MPAA, the trade group that represents major studios, declined to comment. It’s not clear if the industry is contemplating legal action against MovieSwap or VidAngel.

The two companies defend their services as falling within legal bounds. MovieSwap, which is promoting itself with the hashtag “#FreeTheMovies,” says the service functionally is identical to the way a consumer can legally lend DVDs to friends or trade them — only on “a much larger scale thanks to its remote playback technology.”

“Our goal is to give the power back to the people by enabling them to digitally watch the films they already own,” MovieSwap CEO Cyril Barthet said in a statement. “We don’t want the $200 billion invested by the American people on their DVDs to go up in smoke because the technology is now obsolete.”

VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon, in an interview, said that his company is positioned as a family-friendly alternative to traditional streaming services. Founded in 2013, VidAngel lets customers watch DVDs streamed over the Internet using community-created filters for individual titles to eliminate sex, violence, profanity or other objectionable material.

“You can watch ‘Game of Thrones’ without the rape scenes,” he explained. “If you buy a toy, you can write your name on the toy. We’re saying, if you buy a movie, you can choose to skip content in that movie.”

VidAngel says it’s protected by the 2005 Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, which allows the use of technology to censor portions of DVDs. “If somebody wants to watch a movie without filters, we refer them to another site,” Harmon said. “Or, after they’ve already purchased the DVD, we ship them the actual disc if they request it.”

The VidAngel service represents a private performance, according to Harmon: “If our users are the owners (of a DVD), they have a right to a private performance.” That’s different from services courts have deemed engage in copyright infringement because they deliver a public performance, such as broadcast-TV streamer Aereo or DVD rental startup Zediva, he said.

Copyright holders have fought businesses that have tried similar approaches — and won. In 2000, major music labels sued MP3.com over its service that let users stream songs over the Internet after registering their CDs. MP3.com lost the copyright battle and eventually settled with the record companies.

Ultimately, how aggressively the movie biz tries to challenge VidAngel or MovieSwap may come down to scale. If either one starts to attract a significant number of users, expect the studios to swing their legal teams into action.

More Digital

  • YouTube logo

    YouTube Denies Report That It's Exiting Scripted Dramas, Comedies

    YouTube claims it is not pulling up stakes from original entertainment — denying a report by Bloomberg over the weekend that the Google-owned video service was cancelling plans for “high-end dramas and comedies” and had stopped taking pitches for “expensive” scripted shows. In a statement, a rep said, “YouTube denies the report” and cited its [...]

  • Apple to Launch New Apple TV

    This Is What Apple's New TV Service Will Actually Look Like

    Apple unveiled its much-anticipated video service at a press event in Cupertino Monday, promising a range of originals via its forthcoming Apple TV+ service as well as easy access to third-party video subscription services. But while many of the big names attached to Apple’s video efforts were known beforehand, one significant detail wasn’t: How are [...]

  • Apple Announces Gaming Subscription Service

    Apple Announces Gaming Subscription Service Apple Arcade

    Apple detailed its long-rumored gaming subscription service during a special event it held in Cupertino, California Monday. Apple Arcade is the world’s first game subscription service for mobile, desktop and living room, the company said. With a single subscription, you get access to more than 100 new and exclusive games. The games won’t be on [...]

  • Apple News Announcement

    Apple Unveils $9.99 News Subscription Service Dubbed Apple News+

    Apple unveiled a news subscription service called Apple News+ at its services event in Cupertino, Calif. Monday. The $9.99 service gives paying subscribers access to over 300 magazines as well as select newspapers and premium digital news services. “We believe in the power of journalism and the impact it will have on your lives,” said [...]

  • Katie Drummond - Vice Digital

    Vice Names Katie Drummond Senior VP of Digital

    Katie Drummond, who has worked as an editor in digital media and publishing for a decade, joined Vice Media as senior vice president of Vice Digital. Drummond comes on board to take over many of the duties of Ciel Hunter, who left Vice in January as global head of content for Vice Digital after more [...]

  • Apple Event: How to Watch Live-Stream

    How to Live-Stream Today's Apple Event

    Monday is the coming-out party for Apple’s Hollywood ambitions: After years of trademark secrecy about its plans to stream into video entertainment, the tech giant is set to pull back the curtain at a media event. The live program kicks off at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET, on Monday, March 25, from the [...]

  • Google Stadia Is a Net Neutrality

    Google Stadia Is a Net Neutrality Nightmare

    At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) this year, Google announced that it has taken up the long and ever-lengthening dream of the video game streaming service. Meant to replace the hefty, pricey, altogether confounding experience of buying and using various gaming hardware, Google Stadia will run video games on Google’s own hardware in a server [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content