VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon: Copyright Infringement Ruling, and Where We Go from Here

Wednesday night, a Los Angeles Federal Judge ruled that VidAngel is liable for copyright infringement for having used a disc-based model during 2015-16. The court also refused to modify what we believe is an unconstitutionally broad injunction that is keeping VidAngel from streaming Disney (Fox) and Warner Bros. content using our new system, which means we still cannot filter many titles on modern devices.

 

We find the Court’s rulings, and the implications of those rulings troubling. Despite these setbacks, we plan to appeal. The trial is currently scheduled for June 11th, where a jury will decide damages (more detail in the questions listed below).

 

We pray that where a door has closed, a window will open. Meanwhile we offer all the great non-Disney content like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sony, Universal, Paramount, Lionsgate and many more when you connect your VidAngel account to your Netflix or Amazon account.

 

Where We Go From Here

Despite the setback in the courts, VidAngel continues forward with its successful business.

 

We thank the millions who have and continue to use and support VidAngel, who have more recently enjoyed watching or listening to Dry Bar Comedy, and those who have now backed our original TV series called The Chosen. We will continue to improve the ways in which we try to help you make entertainment good for your home for decades to come.  

 

It’s your home. We are your guest. And we remain committed to earning your trust.

 

Sincerely,

Neal Harmon

Co-founder and CEO

VidAngel

 

 

OTHER QUESTIONS

Why Did We Create VidAngel?

We created VidAngel to help you make entertainment good for your home. As parents ourselves, we needed better home-friendly media options for our own families.

How Did We Get Here?

Since 2013, we have tried multiple methods to skip and mute content (Chromecast, YouTube, Google Play licensing, DVDs and Blu-rays, asking the studios and now by connecting to Netflix or Amazon Prime), and later making content ourselves based on what we learned from you (Dry Bar Comedy and The Chosen).

In July 2015, when we developed a new technology, we wrote the studios asking both for feedback and for them to partner with us; they said nothing. We launched our fourth attempt at a service (after the previous three hit insurmountable studio roadblocks) and over a million Americans signed up. According to UCLA professor Doug Litchman, VidAngel users skipped everything from the “f-word” (26,425,075 times) to the Lord’s name in vain (25,856,107 times) to violence (12,080,274 times) and nudity (5,009,513 times).  

Roughly a year after we had asked them to partner with us, Disney finally responded… by suing us in federal court, alongside Fox (whom Disney later acquired) and Warner Bros.

What Other Details Are There About The Case?

The Ninth circuit said ours is a case of “first impression,” which means this issue had never been reviewed or decided by a court.

We were grateful for the incredible outpouring of support when we were sued. Dozens of prominent faith leaders, Members of Congress, and tens of thousands of families families showed up to help. We even had tens of thousands donate to fund the litigation, letting the courts and our elected representatives know where they stand.

Late 2016, Disney succeeded in getting the fourth, disc-based VidAngel system shut down in court. So we built yet another system to connect to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming providers.

How Do Damages Get Decided?

A trial is scheduled for June 11th where a jury will decide whether VidAngel’s copyright infringement was innocent, ordinary, or willful, which could result in the following damages:

  • Innocent Infringement: Roughly $200 per title
  • Ordinary Infringement: Between $750 and $30k per title
  • Willful Infringement: Between $30k and $150k damages per title

 

Finally the jury will also decide the damages for DMCA violations, for which Disney may be awarded between $200 and $2,500 per title.

Disney and others are claiming infringement of approximately 800 titles. Inexplicably, Disney is also asking that we be found to have infringed willfully—which means they claim that we intentionally broke the law. We say we did so innocently, believing that the law protects our service. As has been the case since the lawsuit began, we disagree with Disney.

We are grateful that in the United States of America, we don’t handle disputes like these with fists or guns, but in courts of law, and before a jury of every day people who live and work just like us.

How Does Chapter 11 Fit In?

We filed for Chapter 11 protection in Utah to get a temporary reprieve from expensive litigation, allow us to develop our business, and ultimately make the studios whole if we ended up being wrong on the law. After the jury decides damages, a Utah judge will decide our schedule for paying it off. It is wonderful that our country offers Chapter 11 to give companies like Delta, Marvel, and VidAngel a second chance.

What Are You Doing In Congress?

Last year, former Representative Mia Love (UT-04) and the entire Utah delegation introduced H.R. 6816 in Congress to help American families watch filtered content on modern devices. Now that she is no longer serving in Congress, we hope to find someone like Mia Love to pick up the baton to get such a law passed in this Congress.  

49 thoughts on “VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon: Copyright Infringement Ruling, and Where We Go from Here

  1. Hi Neal,

    Thank you for the update. I did not see anything in the “Where We Go From Here?” section about continuing the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Is that still the plan?

    -Tim

    1. Good question, it was in the first section that we plan to appeal. Maybe would have made more sense to put it in the second section but I focused on the good things we have going on there.

  2. For those of us that invested in VidAngel and not the TV series, are we potentially going to lose our money? Or does our investment live on with the post-courts survival of VidAngel via current and future services?

    1. Thanks for the question. As with any investment in a startup, there is always the potential for you to lose your money.

      The success of The Chosen is also success for VidAngel because we have an agreement to be the US distributor just as Netflix has one for House of Cards.
      So people watching The Chosen should benefit both The Chosen investors and VidAngel investors.

      1. We invested. And if our money is lost in the battle, then it was money well spent. We will never sell out, because regardless of the success of Vidangel, fighting for the right to filter home entertainment is a worthy and just cause. Thank you Vidangel for carrying this heavy banner – you represent us all. Best wishes-

          1. If you need witnesses to testify that we would not in fact have rented their movies at all were it not for Vidangel so therefore there are no damages only gains. I think there would be many of us willing to do so.

  3. Just would like to say, “thank you” for being the tip of the spear in this fight. My family and I appreciate all you are doing to free us from being forced to watch and listen to filth put out by the big studios against our will. The majority of the people in this country are behind you. Please don’t get discouraged and keep up the good fight!

  4. yep, what 3 years for them to decide on this. i though it was obvious with the whole DVD-ripping + renting dirt cheap. as for the infringement on damages who knows what will happen with that. Im curious though do we have to wait til this mess is sorted 1st or can you guys not jump ahead and find out through the system if the current model is actually legal? From what i gathered i think it is but i have a slight doubt.

    1. The original service was not illegal. The logic is clear to someone willing to examine it. The issue is big money Hollywood stomping on little people. They were able to jump through technical loopholes due to the Family Movie Act not being tech proof in it’s original wording. It is high tech bologna that tripped up VidAngel not the premise of the system. Just apply the logic to several other mediums. For example.

      I go to a car dealership. I buy a brand new car. I also have that dealership add aftermarket wheels, tint, and pinstripes, etc. I then drive the car for a certain amount of time and then resell the car back to the dealer. The dealer will obviously give you less the longer it is gone. Now, As soon as I buy the car I own it. Even though it sits at the dealer until the extra work I paid for is done, it is still my car. I own it. In fact I own it even if I never drive it off the lot. If I just dropped by and took it for drives around the dealership and then resold it. It is still mine.

      VidAngel was meticulous. They bought copies of every DVD/Blu-Ray they sold. They have a vault. No one could stream a title they did not own. The fact that VidAngel promised that they would repurchase the DVD/Blu-Ray the customer bought at a dollar per day less than they originally paid may seem like bad business but it turned out to be excellent(the key is that $19 or more compiled by the millions of users, sitting in an interest bearing acct. I’m sure. Hence a pseudo/functional $19 membership fee)! I owned those DVD’s in the vault. I got to use the DVD’s VIA stream and return them.

      Was the system innovative? Yes. Crafty? Indeed! Unexpected? You bet! But logically illegal? Nope!

      Just think about it. The legality issue hung on a tech issue of decryption. Not the legitimacy of buying, altering, selling, buying, altering, and selling again, etc. Many things go through this process all the time.

      So, how could it have been illegal? Well, if VidAngel had on DVD/Blu-Ray and sold the same stream to countless people. That would be illegal!

      Like previous video services that altered rented video tapes permanently. That would have been illegal.

      Many other factors might have made it illegal but VidAngel didn’t do anything illegal on the face. They followed the spirit and letter of the Family Movie Act according to their best estimation. A liberal circuit court friendly to Hollywood ruled against a conservative and family friendly business due to fancy lawyering. Not because VidAngel did anything to hurt the billionaire studios suing them.

      In fact as they have shown by statistics and my self and countless others would attest, the companies made money they otherwise wouldn’t. I watched several movies I would have never watched without VidAngel.

      The truth lies more with hate from producers who don;’t like their “art” altered. And Disney starting their own family friendly service they didn’t want VidAngel stealing customers from.

      The whole VidAngel was doing something illegal, in either model is fallacious in all but the most minutiae of biased technicalities. Here’s to hoping they come out on top in the end anyway for all our benefit.

      1. i agree with you on the tech issue of decryption but Disney also didnt like the fact they were letting people rent brand new movies for 24 hrs at $1 the whole filtering thing at least from what i took from it watching the trial (they streamed years ago) was more of a side note. Not to say i like the out come of how its been going down. Regardless of the tech-lingo the courts ruled with Disney. Im more interested in what will come of the current system

  5. Logan,

    Judge Birotte has declared VidAngel in violation of copyright law.

    The June 12 court date is for a jury to decide how much VidAngel owe’s the studios. 💵

    The legality of the VidAngel business model has been declared definitively illegal by the 9th Circuit. 😩

    1. Yes thank you Brandon for re-posting what Vidangel already told us and what i already knew for years. What is still unclear is if THE CURRENT MODEL (LINKING OTHER STREAMING SERVICES TO THEIR OWN IS LEGAL? I hope it is. This verdict is in regards to the DVD rip to streaming. Read it more carefully.

      1. So there are several sites that allow you to link streaming services to them. Interestingly enough movies everywhere owned by Disney allows you to watch any of your digital content you bought anywhere else on there platform.
        Also interesting is Vudu has a service called disc to digital where you pay 2 dollars to turn your dvd’s to digital including some of disney’s and Fox’s are amount the titles. I see that service very much close to how vidangel worked you buy the dvd and they send you the digital copy, they were just willing to buy it back from you. Just saying

        1. the only reason i brought this up is cus Disney made the comment that it was fishy, not sure if thats the exact word but you are correct Seth. Which is why i hope this current model is the final stage.

  6. Whatever happens with this current court battle, will you still be able to keep your current streaming service.

  7. How close are you guys to being able to find another Congressional sponsor to carry forth on the efforts that Rep. Love was previously championing?

  8. We are grateful for the opportunity to have clean movies!!! I’m originally from Ukraine… The movies there are in ukrainian… The translation doesn’t have any swear words… Although, the translation can be really of sometimes.

    I don’t know what I could do… But if there is anything you think I could do to help please contact me..

  9. Greetings. Is there any way we can write a letter to a politician or judge expressing our support for VidAngel?

  10. Walt Disney must be rolling in his grave. The company he founded was all about wholesome family entertainment. Now the current management stands against families skipping over language and scenes that would definitely not meet with Walt’s standards.

  11. Hello. I’ve come here to ask you guys something concerning the new marvel film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. First off, let me tell you that I don’t care what Disney says. You guys are following the law as much as you can to bring us clean content and I hope the court will one day bring back the original service so we can watch movies for $1 again. Now for the Spider-Man film. I voted for it to be on VidAngel, but the problem was it was blocked. I checked for the copyright on that film, and it’s owned by Sony. The closest thing it has to the studios is the fact that it’s made by Marvel. But it’s made by the Sony division of Marvel which has also been responsible for Spider-Man 1-3, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. I don’t see why Into the Spider-Verse is different. Maybe you guys know something about that film that I don’t. I’d like to know if you guys know why. If not, I understand. You don’t have to respond. I just commented to see if you guys knew why. Into the Spider-Verse is a great film, but it has a couple areas that are a little to intense for younger kids, so I’d like to see it on VidAngel. Anyway, thank you guys for the other titles you have available. You people are the best.

    1. Strange that it says blocked. We’re working on it. Expect it to be published. Because it’s only available for purchase and so few of our customers purchase, it’s not currently a 24-hrs high priority project. However, we’ll have it out soon.

        1. I might not watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, though, because my parents said the film was too dark. I can’t really give any detail about the films plot because I might end up spoiling it, but there are at least like 7 deaths. 2 of which we actually see, and 5-6 that we hear about. The dark side of the film isn’t glorified, and we do see people mourn over those deaths and try to confront one another. But still, if we try to ask mom if we could watch it again, she’d probably say no. When I wrote the earlier comment, I didn’t really have myself in mind, but rather other kids who can see pass the casualties to get to the films message about sacrificial love, and the outstanding visual effects. I was somewhat trying to help those kids out by letting them watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse minus a bit of the violence and the use of h*ll. Anyway, thanks again. I know you guys are busy, so I hope you aren’t bothered be me dropping and taking up a minute of your time. You guys are amazing and I hope you make further progress in the legal battle so we watch blocked movies as well. I’m praying for you all. Keep up the great work.

  12. I will say with 100% certainty that I would not be subscribed to Netflix or Hulu if VidAngel did not exist. Thank you for your continued effort! You and the company are in our prayers as this next court date approaches.

  13. So Neal, if the whole Utah delegation co sponsored the bill and I assume all of them didn’t get voted out. Are any of them taking up to write a new bill proposal?

    The whole lawsuit is a facrce based on technicalities of technology that weren’t known when originally the FMA was enacted. A revised FMA should solve these problems. VidAngels is doing exactly what we need and even the original system was valid. Buying, selling, and rebuying goods is not illegal.

    Thanks for keeping us posted.

  14. What is wrong with these people? So they not realize that people watch their content only when they’re able to use vidangel? That’s the only way I watch movies nowadays. Thank you vidangel!

  15. Is there nothing “we the people” can do to apply pressure to Disney. I think if more people were exposed to how they are fighting to make us watch unsavory and unwanted content despite a very creative way to prevent it that still lets their movies be viewed, public pressure could maybe help. Optics mean a lot to businesses like Disney. Who can we write and how can we help.

  16. I really could not afford to lose any money EXCEPT VidAngel was worth the chance I have movie credits and a “smallish” investment to some I pray everything works out because I would like to invest MORE !!!

  17. I have not heard a response from Disney+ if they will allow me to filter out the bad words in their movies and it does not make any sense that you are still blocked from filtering their movies by using the current method.

  18. VidAngel is the only way I can enjoy current movies and TV shows. I will always be a supporter and am hoping for the best in the future.

    Neal, your service also inspired me to pursue a similar venture for video games. I am working on a website that will house mods for PC games that filter out things like blood, foul language, and immodesty. I appreciate all you’ve done for us, I believe VidAngel will carry on!

      1. Oh hey! Sorry, I didn’t see that someone had replied. Yes, as of right now I have just started assembling a website. It will have a directory of games that have mods available and the filter categories. I don’t have a domain just yet as it is in the early stages, but you can check out the Wix site here:

        https://jessestu291.wixsite.com/mysite/game-mods

        I may also start a Twitch channel or maybe even a Patreon where the donations will go towards hiring modders so we have more inappropriate content filters available for games. There are quite a few available for popular games, but I would like to see it more readily available.

        Thanks for your interest, more to come!

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