PROVO — Four major Hollywood studios have sued Utah startup VidAngel, a movie editing service, for what they claim is a violation of copyright law.
Disney, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 20th Century Fox Film Corporation and Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC, filed the complaint Thursday in the California Central District Court.
The studios claim that VidAngel does not have permission to copy their videos and TV shows or to stream them to its customers. The company "blatantly violates the Copyright Act and confers on itself unfair and unlawful advantages vis-a-vis licensed services in the (video on demand) marketplace," the complaint states.
The studios also allege that VidAngel "apparently (circumvents) technological protection measures" on DVDs and Blu-ray discs and copies the content for their use.
Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel, declined on Friday to comment on the company's model of obtaining the content, saying that he would let his company's response to the complaint answer any questions. As of Friday, his company had not yet been served with the complaint.
"We believe that the law allows for people to have the right to filter content they own on modern devices and we're going to fight for that," he told the Deseret News.
Harmon also responded to the complaint in a blog post Friday:
"Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. have filed a complaint against VidAngel in federal court. We wish they would have let us know they had issue with VidAngel back in July 2015 when we wrote them a letter to inform them about VidAngel’s lawful service. However, we’ve hired great Hollywood attorneys. We’re as confident now as we were when we launched that filtering a DVD or Blu-Ray you own on your favorite devices is your right. We’re ready. More to come."
VidAngel allows viewers to edit out portions of a film or television show at their own discretion. Users pay a $20 fee to buy movies from VidAngel, which pays them $19 to buy the film back.
In May, a VidAngel blog post titled "Is VidAngel legal?" attempted to answer questions about the service's legality. VidAngel offers a "family-friendly alternative to traditional movie viewing," the post said, and cited provisions in the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 that allow people to edit out portions of media in their homes so long as a member of the household chooses what is edited and the content is from an authorized copy of the media.
VidAngel goes on to say that it sought legal advice and contacted major motion picture studios before launching the service.
In addressing the question "Weren't other companies that edited the movies sued and shut down?" the blog post reads: "Yes, but they were selling edited copies of movies or were deciding what content to screen. VidAngel provides a filtering tool used at your discretion. VidAngel doesn't decide what to edit; you do."
The studios, however, disagree in their complaint.
"It does not matter whether VidAngel sells or rents movies. In either case, VidAngel would need copyright owner consent to circumvent access controls on protected discs, make copies of that content, and stream performances of the content to the public. VidAngel does not have consent to do any of these things. And VidAngel is not 'selling' movies. VidAngel is simply providing an unauthorized dollar-a-day (video on demand) rental service," the complaint says.
The studios are seeking a jury trial, attorney fees, unspecified damages and VidAngel's profits from the streaming and for VidAngel and its affiliates to stop streaming works from the studios.
See the full complaint here.