Family-friendly streaming startup VidAngel received a preliminary injunction on December 12 demanding the service be shut down pending a copyright infringement trial. Rather than play it safe and heed the judge’s order, the streaming video provider is sticking to its guns and conducting business as usual. It’s a bold move of defiance that Variety says is “enraging” the plaintiffs.
Founded in 2013 and launching a year later, VidAngel “sells” movies to its customers for $20 each. Buyers can then filter out any mature content they don’t want to see or hear such as foul language, violence and nudity. You then stream your content-filtered movie and “sell it back” to VidAngel for $19 (or $18 for HD quality films).
Bottom line – you can stream movies for a buck or two which is far cheaper than you can rent them elsewhere. What’s more, because you get to fine-tune the film to your exact content preferences, there’s nothing stopping you from leaving a film (nearly) as-is and watching it unedited.
Apparently you have to select at least one filter although according to YouTube user Conrad Comments, a movie’s ending credits count as a filter. Does this make it one of the best-kept secrets in the movie “rental” space? Perhaps.
Unsurprisingly, Hollywood studios including Disney, Fox, Lucasfilm and Warner Bros. weren’t exactly thrilled about this business model and filed suit in June citing specific provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Specifically, the studios argued that VidAngel is operating as an unlicensed video-on-demand service. Furthermore, as TechCrunch highlights, some of the newer films VidAngel streams haven't yet made their way to legal streaming avenues like Netflix and is thus undercutting studios' windowing system.
VidAngel, meanwhile, claims the Family Home Movie Act of 2005 gives them legal ground to stand on. They also use more than a third of their gross revenues to purchase thousands of DVD and Blu-ray discs which are digitally “re-sold” to VidAngel users.
VidAngel says it condemns censorship of content in the public sphere but believes that individuals in the privacy of their homes should have the personal freedom to watch content any way they choose. Its mission is simple – to ensure families everywhere have the option to filter content as they wish.
VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon recently said that the preliminary injunction is just the first battle in a long war, adding that unlike other companies, they have the funds to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary (fans a few months ago vowed to pledge up to $62 million for legal costs).
I’d keep a close eye on this one as it’s likely to set precedent on how future streaming video providers do business.