VidAngel filtering doesn’t comply with copyright, law professor says

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Online filtering technology like VidAngel is not protected under copyright law, according to BYU Law School professor Clark D. Asay.

VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon announces VidAngel’s new third-party filtering service at the VidAngel announcement event, June 13, 2017. BYU law professor Clark D. Asay said the VidAngel filtering service is not legal under copyright law. (Dani Jardine)

VidAngel launched a new service on June 13, 2017 that filters Netflix, Amazon and HBO content

VidAngel argues its new filtering service is compliant with the Family Movie Act — a subset of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.

The Family Movie Act arose in part from a lawsuit between ClearPlay — a video filtering software service — and a group of Hollywood directors and studios, according to a 2005 Forbes article. The act states individuals and families can use filtering technology to censor authorized copies of movies so long as censored copies of the movie are not created.

Asay said current copyright law complicates the legality of online video filtering services.

“I have sympathy for the people that want this technology, but under the law there’s not a clear-cut path,” Asay said. 

Asay said the debate between the letter and the spirit of the Family Movie Act will only continue as technology advances.

“I think if VidAngel and others don’t want to perpetually be in legal limbo, Hatch will need to sponsor and spearhead a new amendment to that act (the Family Movie Act) … to make it clear that (online filtering services) are legal, because otherwise they’re not,” Asay said.

Hatch and other Utah lawmakers expressed their wish for consumers to have access to video filtering services consistent with the law in a June 21, 2017 letter to Chris Dodd, the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America,

“I want to find a way for everyone to win on this issue. I believe that families should have the choice to screen out profanity, violence, and other objectionable content from movies and television shows if they want to. At the same time, it’s essential that we protect content creators’ intellectual property rights,” Hatch said in an emailed statement.

A screenshot of VidAngel’s new filtering service on its mobile device application. (VidAngel)

Provo-based VidAngel is a video streaming service that allows its users to filter out content such as nudity, strong language and violence. The company launched in 2014.

Disney, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 20th Century Fox Film Corporation and Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC sued VidAngel on June 9, 2016, for copyright violation. Later that year, the Central District Court of California granted a preliminary injunction against VidAngel, disabling its current video streaming model.

VidAngel seeks to clarify the Family Movie Act encourages the delivery of “high quality, individually filtered, content … to any modern device a consumer wants to use to watch it,” Matthew Faraci of VidAngel external affairs said.

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