VidAngel Changes Course With New Netflix and Amazon Filtering Service

VidAngel
Courtesy of Vid Angel

VidAngel is launching a new service to filter offensive content on Amazon and Netflix, opening a new front in the long-running battle over the sanitizing of Hollywood movies.

The company, based in Provo, Utah, launched in 2014 with the goal of making mainstream movies more accessible to faith-based audiences. The original service used DVD copies of Hollywood releases to filter out language and nudity. But in December, a federal judge ordered VidAngel to shut down at the request of Disney, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., which have argued that the unauthorized service violates their copyrights.

VidAngel is still fighting that battle in federal appeals court. But in the meantime, it is also launching its new service to allow subscribers to watch “clean” content on Netflix, Amazon and HBO Go.

“This announcement is the culmination of something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Neal Harmon, VidAngel’s CEO, tells Variety. “People have been without filtering services for months, and we’re launching this service because our customers are asking for it.”

According to VidAngel, the company had about a million users at the time it was shut down. The company will now seek to sign up its customers to the new service. In a promotional video, the company compares its service to a parent fast-forwarding to prevent their kids from seeing foul language, violence or sexual material.

“We don’t force directors to change their scenes,” the narrator says. “We just let families mute and skip those scenes like they would with a remote. A remote isn’t censorship. It’s choice.”

Harmon and his chief legal counsel, David Quinto, contend that the new service resolves the copyright concerns raised by the studios. The studios alleged that VidAngel’s old service competed unfairly with licensed streaming services. VidAngel was streaming movies that were available on DVD but not on Netflix.

To use the new service, which will cost $7.99 per month, subscribers must first have a valid subscription to one of the major streaming services. Quinto says this will be a net benefit to both the studios and the streaming services.

“It removes all the economic harms that Disney claimed it was suffering as a result of our prior service,” Quinto says. “There would be no economic reason for the streaming services to complain. VidAngel would be driving more traffic to them.”

Nevertheless, VidAngel plans to tread carefully. The company was held in contempt and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine in January for continuing to operate its old service for two weeks after an injunction was issued ordering it to shut down. VidAngel intends to go to federal court and seek a determination that the new service does not violate the terms of the injunction. Until then, it will not offer any content owned by the plaintiff studios.

As to the streaming services, Harmon says his team has had “encouraging” discussions with executives at Netflix and Amazon. However, the services have not given their blessing, and it is not clear how they will react. In the Netflix terms of service, customers agree not to “insert any code or product or manipulate the content of the Netflix service in any way.”

“Their contracts don’t allow them to officially sanction what we’re doing,” Harmon says.

With the old service, the studios did not have an easy technical way to block VidAngel, forcing them to go to court. But it’s possible that the streaming services could alter their interface in such a way to thwart filtering.

“They could make our lives very difficult if they wanted to,” he says. “At the end of the day we believe the user should have the control here.”

Harmon says he’s grown frustrated that studios claim to support filtering for family audiences, but have not been willing to negotiate a license with VidAngel.

ClearPlay offers a licensed filtering service for DVDs and computers, but is not available for TV streaming.

“The studios have said all along that they are OK with filtering,” Harmon says. “But their actions have shown that they’re only OK with a broken version of filtering.”

Update: Netflix is out with a statement. “We have not endorsed or approved the VidAngel technology,” a spokesperson says. The company declines to say what it will do about it, if anything.

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  1. Rhoda Cormier says:

    I think VidAngel is awesome and I hope that they can at least offer their services through Netflix or Amazon if disney and others are going to be idiots and sue them for totally ridiculous reasons. Disney and other companies makes billions of money so obviously money isn’t the issue and honestly I hope they lose and VidAngel succeds. Oh and now because of the lawsuit my choice of pleasurable viewing is limited and I’m now reduced to cabel and ironically services like amazon and roku.

    • Monty Sahay says:

      I did not know it earlier but i think the way vidangel was operating was completely illegal.

      Instead of licensing movies from studios and paying for them like EVERYBODY else, they were buying DVDs, ripping them (a highly illegal activity) and selling them to the end user. That is an out and out theft of copyrighted material. I am not sure why they thought they could get away with it.

      I did enjoy their service while it lasted though. It was very economical and worked well ….however, I realize now that it was not legal.

      • Mike Grover says:

        Not so. They possessed a hard copy for each point of sale. They did not buy one copy and sell it multiple times. They simply held the hard copy for you or mailed it to you if requested.

  2. Jesse Skeen says:

    Ironically Netflix already has their OWN “filtering” system in place on the newest Rokus and other devices- they have their system set up to automatically shrink the screen and bring up a menu anytime end credits are displayed. For me this RUINS the ending of the movie, plus I like to actually watch them all the way to the very end anyways but with Netflix’s system they always assume that I don’t want to. They also automatically skip over the openings of TV episodes, though at least with that it’s easier to scan back to the beginning. I cancelled them because of that- I want to watch everything straight through from beginning to end, if I want to skip something I’ll do it myself and not have someone else do it for me.

  3. Bob says:

    lol really? Here’s a suggestion, how about you just don’t watch those movies. Because they’re not for you. They’re for the rest of us, intelligent people who don’t need a service like this to hold our hands or play mommy. This is ridiculous, good for Netflix for not endorsing it.

    • Kendall says:

      That’s a silly suggestion. How about this suggestion: You watch what you want to watch and how you want to watch it, and I’ll to the same. It seems weird that someone would want to force me to not press the mute or fast forward button or automate that process if that’s what I want.

      • Kendall says:

        Quality of the product? Am I worsening the product when I mute or fast forward? Maybe or maybe not. The key is, it’s my choice. If I want to use technology to change an experience to my liking, please allow me to do that. You can watch it how you want. Allow me the freedom to watch it how I want.

        Why not remove the fast forward, rewind, and mute buttons on all devices? Wouldn’t that really guarantee your so-called “quality of product?”

      • Michael says:

        You can mute or fast forward all you want, but you can not make copies of movies and stream it over the internet like VidAngel is doing.

        If VidAngel released a DVD player that knew when to skip or mute then it would be perfectly legal. Admittedly it’s not as cool or easy to use, but at least it wouldn’t be illegal.

        Here’s a couple examples of why it’s not “weird” a production company would not want you to edit.

        1. Quality of the product. Basically you’re making the product worse when you edit it. Perhaps it’s more appropriate for your audience, but it is very likely a worse product. This can have long lasting negative effects towards actors/brands/companies/series/etc. that is out of their control.

        2. Advertising. It wouldn’t take much for a service like VidAngel to introduce an option to skip commercials or remove all product placement. If brands realize that people can just turn off product placement or ads, you can say goodbye to all that revenue.

  4. O'Niels says:

    We are SO THRILLED that we can use VIdangel with Netflix and Amazon. We basically stopped watching movies when Vidangel was shut down – so this is great news. Here’s hoping that Netflix and Amazon realize this will drive business their way.

    • Michael says:

      Besides the original content from Netflix and Amazon, they can not filter or control the content. In fact, by allowing it to happen, they may be in violation of the contracts they have signed with the studios.

  5. There is a long argument out there on how much you can control your intellectual property after you sell something into someone else’s hands. What rights do you have over what you make AFTER you sell it?
    Most people agree you can’t copy someone else’s work even if you’ve bought it. But can, for example, Microsoft tell someone that Word can’t be used to write stories about the Alt-right or climate change? Can an Amish carpenter sell a very artistic bed on the terms there can’t be any fornicatin’ on it after it’s purchsed? Can a bread company forbid the use of their breads from being used for Cubans? Can a dress maker tell Megyn Kelly that she can’t wear their dress if interviewing people on a Thursday? Can an artist tell the painting’s commissioner that his painting can’t be hung in a room with any shade of green on the walls?

    All of us want our work used ‘faithfully’, but we give up rights to the purchaser when we sell it to them. We can’t control what they do with it beyond copying it or re-appropriating it along certain lines that amount to copying it. That is, so long as the consumer doesn’t act as a producer of what we produced, then it’s their right to use it as they wish. This includes them offering an added production- like filtering. Artists have always had to deal with the fact that their art is often not received as they have intended. A proper view of art is that art isn’t for the artist. And besides, their personal sense of expression isn’t the most important thing- the art is independent of them- they are not selling themselves.

    In my view, filtering is clearly in the realm of valid consumer choice. It is private use of a purchased good. Companies should not be able to tell me what other goods or products I can use with their products. This includes whomever I might contract with in using their product. The butcher can’t tell me I can’t pay a chef to cook the meat I got from him even if he thinks it is best raw. They can’t tell me what pants to wear with their shirts, what knife must be paired with their cutting board, what TV I must watch their DVD on, nor what filtering service I use to filter the art as I chose. I don’t let coffee companies tell me what filter I can use, or listen to wine companies’ demands for certain decanters. Neither do I accept the claims of film companies, that intellectual property or artistry subvert this obvious right to a consumer freedom.

    Intellectual property rights are not a natural law. They are an extrapolation of justice for the overall good of innovation- to prop up progress. This ‘right’ must be carefully circumscribed and limited only to promote creative creation- but not so that the artist or production company can tyrannize it’s audience. If the artist is paid and the work is not copied, their rights end there.

    • Michael says:

      But VidAngel IS copying the movies so your entire argument about intellectual property is a moot point.

      Let’s address it anyways. When you purchase a normal movie, you are purchasing the right to view the movie in a home setting. You can not do whatever you want with it. You can not play it in a theater and charge money, you can not play it at a church event, you can not make copies, you can not publicly stream it over the internet, etc. There are many restrictions.

      Using your example, yes Microsoft can enforce that you not use their software to write about climate change if you agree to that upon purchasing. It’s called a contract. They can write pretty much whatever they want and if you agree, then you are contractually bound. Most of time it’s almost impossible to govern, but if it came down to a court case they have legal grounds.

      And that goes for all of your examples with the exception of the bread and the Cubans because that would be breaking discrimination laws.

      So basically you’re flat out wrong. Now, if you want to purchase the rights to do whatever you want with it, you can negotiate a deal with the film companies and do so, but it’s not going to be $19.99 at the Walmart, nor should it be.

      • Lemons says:

        Do you realize the example was about making a Cuban sandwich? Nothing racist about that. Yes, there are things you’re missing here … so please be mature enough to realize even though you may not pick up on why someone would like to make a choice, your lack of understanding doesn’t make it illegal. They are not copying movies, they’re having people purchase the rights to watching the movie at home and separately paying a babysitter service to monitor the experience.

      • Patrick Butler says:

        Did you even read the article? It’s all about how this new model is not then purchasing DVDs.

  6. Hollywood Filmmaking Family says:

    I loved the old VidAngel. I will try the new version. Even though I and almost my whole family are in the biz, I don’t watch movies or shows with material I don’t like. Because of VidAngel I watched a bunch of movies I normally would not have. Even though I had screeners, I chose to pay VidAngel to watch a filtered version of the movie before the guild votes were due.

    BTW, director’s movies get re-edited and cleaned up all the time for Network TV, viewing on Airplanes and China (Hollywood’s biggest market). China removes any objection material they don’t like. If filmmaker’s really hate filtering, they should fight to keep their movies off TV and Airplanes and out of those markets.

    • Jesse Skeen says:

      This is why I don’t care about the Academy Awards and such anymore, since I learned that many of the people who vote on them haven’t even SEEN all of the nominated movies! If some of them have only seen “filtered” versions that’s all the more reasons not to care what they vote on. And yes, directors SHOULD object to having censored versions of their movies shown anywhere without their approval. I’ve NEVER watched a movie on network TV since they’ve always been cut.

  7. Mary says:

    I love love love Vid Angel. I don’t need to hide behind religion or anything else to appreciate a good movie. My choice to see a good movie without all the violence etc is a choice for me. This gives me the options to still see a good movie in the convenience of my home. Why should I not enjoy a movie with a good plot without scenes I find unacceptable. I love it!

  8. deerjerkydave says:

    End users are allowed to mute and fast forward through movies. VidAngel doesn’t do the filtering, they simply skip and mute the parts requested by the end user.

    • Michael says:

      This is wrong. VidAngel purchases dvds, rips them to a hard drive and creates a permanent file. They then stream it and edit it on the fly (I believe).

      They can not legally rip a dvd. They can not legally make copies.

  9. Pen says:

    Some people just really do not get that 1 MILLION FAMILIES WANT filters and not remote it here or there…most of the time it has already shown something offensive that CANNOT BE UNSEEN! It really is all about the FREEDOM to be a decent parent and care about how your children turn out in the next up and coming generation. Our family has been using TV Guardian since the 90’s. It worked for live TV, dvd’s and VHS…it was a massive blessing to my older boys and I would like the same freedom to filter out streaming for our younger son. Now everything is streaming was there was/is not TV Guardian for that unless you have DISH. Which we closed the doors on DISH 7 years ago. We rarely watch TV and when we do, we have to obsessively watch and have remote in hand to switch before the commercial comes on to another appropriate channel. It is a lot off unnecessary work. I also wrote to Netflix several times about the desire for our family to have a filter solution as the way they setup Documentaries…(which are awesome) they are Unrated which means in order to have access to the Documentaries everything has to be available. I counter that by the house rule being whatever is screened is at the top of the viewing menu in Queue Category and then whatever we have recently watched is thankfully right below that. Absolutely no scrolling to the lower categories. It has worked pretty well thus far but would still like to a change so only what we want to come into our house viewing would be controlled by us.

    I am regrettably sad that adults find it desirable to watch and listen to things that they do but ultimately respect their adult decision. Please respect the 1 Million plus families desire to choose what is right for their families and their own home.

  10. Michael Borton says:

    I hope studio sue them again . if people want to filter than learn to use your remote.just because there “religion” based doesn’t me there special we all ready have to deal with movie ,tv rating system because of these stuffy group. If they want clean stuff watch rated G stuff. .there just milking people $7.99 a month.

    • You have no right to see these movies in any form other than that intended by the creators. If there really were such a demand for soft boring fluff then you would find it on every shelf.

      • JoeBlo says:

        I clickedthe wron “reply” link. That post was meant for Michael Borton.

      • JoeBlo says:

        Wow, why you care about how other people want to watch movies is beyond me. Just an FYI, your case might be stronger if you didn’t have so many spelling and grammar errors in your post.

    • CDawn says:

      Why do you care? No one would make YOU filter your content in any way. This would not effect you at all. Don’t want it…don’t pay for it!

      However, my nephew wants to watch the same “cool” movies that some of his friends watch and the content on some of those is more mature than my SIL would like him to watch. Vidangel was the tool they used to take out language/nudity/violence that was in an otherwise decent movie (And these are PG13, not R). Does their choice affect you AT ALL?!?! No…so what does it matter to you?

      It is a great tool for people who want to see a good movie, but are sensitive to content. Also a great tool for people with PTSD that have certain triggers.

  11. Jason says:

    What’s to stop Netflix, Amazon or Disney to creating their own filtering services and charge an extra couple of bucks?
    Or even just pushing it as family safe viewing to attract more customers themselves.

  12. ricegf says:

    “Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.”

    Oh, look – filtering! :-) I really appreciate Vidangel’s service as well, and wish them success with their new product. We subscribe to both Netflix and Amazon, and with small children in the house who are adept with remotes, will find the new capabilities most welcome.

  13. Aaron says:

    This is a win-win for everybody. I don’t see how the studios could be mad at this. It gives power to the consumer without undercutting the studios or content providers. Hopefully VidAngel is here to stay now.

  14. Isaac says:

    Vidangel is in the right on this stuff, and an awful lot of people are passionate about Vidangel succeeding in their mission!

  15. Congratulations VidAngel! Such a great company. So happy they keep finding ways to battle the Hollywood exec giants, and allow options for families to view media in whatever fashion they would like.

    • Steve Dave says:

      Aaron N Jenny says: —– VidAngel — keep finding ways to battle —————— families ———.

      There, I “filtered” your comment. Did it keep the message you intended intact?

      • Ezra says:

        There is a difference between filtering and censorship. What I do in my home is filtering; but if I choose to edit a movie in my public movie theater based on what I think the audience should see, that would be censorship because I’m not giving them a choice.

        A director may not want his movie to be interpreted by any niche audience, but how can you stop private interpretation? Hitler tried it, didn’t work. Besides, maybe someone will watch the movie the way they want to interpret it and then watch the movie the way the director wants to interpret it. Not only have you picked up additional revenue for the filtered version, but even more when they want to watch the censored version.

        Directors shouldn’t want to censor their movies, censorship has never been good for anyone.

      • It probably didn’t, but it did say what you wanted it to say. That’s choice.

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