×
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

  • hdhomerun roku app

    HDHomerun App Brings Live TV to Roku Devices

    Roku users are getting another way to watch live television with the help of their favorite streaming devices: Silicondust, maker of the HDHomerun TV tuners, has released a beta version of its HDHomerun app for Roku TVs and streaming devices. “We need to start out by saying this is very much a beta product,” the [...]

  • Vox Media

    Vox Media Staff Ratifies First Union Contract, Negotiated by Writers Guild

    Staffers at Vox Media, which includes Curbed, Eater, Polygon, Recode, SB Nation, The Verge and Vox.com, have ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with more than 90% in support. The staffers are represented by the Writers Guild of America East. Vox Media’s 350-member unit began bargaining their first contract in April 2018. The campaign to [...]

  • Joslyn Davis, Lily-Marston - Shared Media

    Clevver’s Joslyn Davis, Lily Marston Launch Their Own YouTube Media Venture (EXCLUSIVE)

    Here’s the latest chapter in the saga of Clevver, the entertainment/lifestyle YouTube network marooned by the shuttering of former parent Defy Media and subsequently snapped up by Hearst Magazines. Two of the principal creatives behind Clevver — Joslyn Davis and Lily Marston — together with Clevver Media co-founder Jorge Maldonado have launched Shared Media, their [...]

  • Money-Diaries-Refinery29

    Refinery29 to Produce Interactive Series Funded by Eko (EXCLUSIVE)

    Refinery29 has been bitten by the “Bandersnatch” bug. The millennial-female-focused digital media and entertainment company inked a pact with Eko, an interactive-video platform developer whose backers include Walmart, to produce several “choose-your-own-adventure”-style series based on Refinery29 content properties. The companies have started development on their first project: an interactive scripted adaptation of Refinery29’s popular “Money [...]

  • Dan Howell

    YouTube Star Dan Howell Comes Out as Gay: 'It Gets So Much Better'

    It’s Pride Month, and popular YouTube vlogger Dan Howell had a message for fans that he’d been working on for a year: “Basically, I’m Gay,” he shared in a video Thursday. In the 45-minute video, Howell discussed coming to terms with his sexual orientation and his thoughts on labels that people use to define themselves [...]

  • Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment

    Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment as Industry Deepens

    Global streaming giant, Netflix is expanding its involvement in the Korean film and TV industries by greenlighting several new shows and renewing others. “When we started three years ago, we had a high degree of confidence that Korean drama would work well in Asia, but we had no internal metrics of our own,” Korean content [...]

  • Instagram Logo

    Instagram Outage: Facebook’s Photo Sharing Service Went Down For Multiple Hours

    Instagram faced another major outage Thursday afternoon, with users from around the world reporting that they weren’t able to access Facebook’s photo sharing service via its app and website. An Instagram spokesperson told Variety around 5pm PT that the issue had been resolved: “Earlier today, a technical issue caused some people to have trouble accessing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content