All posts by Dave Vance

Is VidAngel Legal?

Dear VidAngel customers,

 

VidAngel is being sued by Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and Lucasfilm. You might be asking, “Are these studios just trying to get buzz by piggybacking on the VidAngel brand?” We’ll let historians answer that.

But first, the bigger question: is VidAngel legal?

 

We say we’re legal. Disney says we’re pirates. But Disney made Pirates 2 through 4, so who is the real criminal here?

Whatever you believe, know that if VidAngel gets shut down, it’s the end of filtering. Here’s why.

 

In 2005, Congress passed the Family Movie Act to protect the choice to filter. Just as a director gets to choose what goes into a movie, a family watching at home gets to decide what to mute and skip — and filtering is like a fancy remote to make muting and skipping easier. So everyone has their choice.

Sure, what a director puts in may offend some viewers, and what a viewer takes out may offend some directors. But being offended doesn’t mean you get to make choices for other people, or else college students would rule the world.

Well, Hollywood didn’t like that law, so they signed secret contracts with the Directors Guild and streaming companies to create a “force field” against filtering. The contracts said no one could filter or partner with filtering companies — basically blocking filtering from the whole streaming market.

(We only know all this because Sony got hacked by North Korea and their contracts became public. Probably because North Korea’s a big fan of filtering — just not the voluntary kind.)

 

And this is where VidAngel comes in — because that force field blocked us 4 times.

  1. We teamed up with Google to filter their licensed Google Play movies, but Hollywood told Google no.
  2. We tried to license directly and the studios said no, even though we had the money.
  3. We tried to buy discs directly and they said no.
  4. We made a product that let you filter movies you already bought on YouTube. They got it shut down. (Our competitor, ClearPlay, does essentially the same thing, and if they ever get big enough to be a threat, the studios will probably shut them down too.)

Basically, the force field worked. For 10 years no one could stream filtered movies, proving that Disney is so magical they can make Congressional laws disappear.

 

But the Family Movie Act struck back. Congress already knew Hollywood hated filtering, because before 2005 there had been about a dozen filtering companies, and Hollywood sued — let me check my math — all of them! They sued every filtering company!

So, the Family Movie Act said filtering companies don’t need Hollywood’s permission. They just need to meet 3 requirements:

  1. The movie is an authorized copy
  2. Watched in the privacy of the home, and…
  3. No permanent filtered copy is created

Notice that Hollywood here is like your fiancé’s parents — it’d be nice to get their approval, but if you can’t, you’re still doing this thing. Also, they’ll never give their approval! In my experience.

 

So what happens when Congress wants a company to exist, but Hollywood doesn’t? Well, it’s gonna be a weird company.

To filter streamed movies despite the Hollywood force field, VidAngel has to buy authorized DVDs and Blu-rays (requirement 1) from retailers, sell them to customers, stream the filtered movie to customers at home (2), without making a permanent copy (3) — meeting all 3 of Congress’s requirements. That’s pretty weird. But weird is not the same as illegal. Just ask Shia LaBeouf.

For instance, it’s weird for a startup to provide $1 movies without the studios’ permission, and to pay by buying discs, instead of licensing. But it was weird when Redbox did all those things too, and they were legal — though the studios tried and failed to shut them down.

It’s also weird that VidAngel decrypts discs. But if you’ve ever used a DVD player, then so have you, and you’re probably legal. So let’s look closer.

 

First, the discs. A law called the DMCA forbids unauthorized decryption of discs. Here’s why we think VidAngel’s OK.

 

1. The DMCA doesn’t apply here

Congress wanted the Family Movie Act to protect filtering companies from unfair Hollywood lawsuits. So they made clear that filtering companies meeting those 3 requirements would be immune to Copyright Act lawsuits. And since the DMCA is part of the Copyright Act, it shouldn’t apply here.

But even if it did…

 

2. Decryption is necessary to fulfill the Family Movie Act

Without decryption, Hollywood’s force field makes it impossible to filter at all. So either VidAngel can legally decrypt discs, or Congress passed a law that didn’t change the law. And you may not like Congress. They still know what laws are.

So we decrypt movies in order to add filters, then re-encrypt them to keep the copyrighted material protected. Plus…

 

3. VidAngel is legal under Fair Use

The Fair Use doctrine allows companies like VidAngel to use copyrighted works, since our use is transformative and the lawful filtering increases Disney’s movie sales.

 

Meaning…

  1. The DMCA doesn’t apply here
  2. We didn’t break it anyway, and…
  3. Even if we had, Fair Use makes that legal

So to quote MC Hammer, and those jerks at the Louvre, “You can’t touch this!”

 

Now, Hollywood claims our reasons are bogus, and decryption isn’t the legal way to stream filtered movies. But when we ask what that legal way is, their only answer is the YouTube method we tried earlier, which they got shut down! That’s like your fiancé’s parents saying, “No, don’t marry this daughter. But how ‘bout this other daughter you already dated, who we murdered?

In other words, there aren’t other options for streaming filtered movies. VidAngel is filtering’s last stand!

 

Now, the piracy accusers say we don’t pay Hollywood enough. But remember, we pay them just like Redbox, by buying discs. And just like Redbox, we have to buy a lot or we go out of stock. In fact, we spend about 1/3 of our revenue on discs. So if we’re pirates, then we’re terrible pirates. Just not as terrible as Pirates 2 through 4.

And again, we want to cooperate with Hollywood! We want licensing! But Hollywood seems determined to crush the entire filtering industry.

 

VidAngel isn’t a loophole! It’s a last resort.

 

So here’s how you can help:

  1. Keep using VidAngel and sharing it with your friends. The more customers we bring in, the better. And regardless of what the judge decides, you customers will never be held liable for using VidAngel.
  2. Go to SaveFiltering.com and sign the petition to help protect VidAngel. Every voice matters.
  3. Share this post, especially with our critics. We know some people will never love us. But we hope we can convince them we’re not criminals. We’re just trying to protect the personal choice of families.

We’ll keep you posted on the case. In the meantime, thanks for your support. You help make filtering possible.

 

(This blog post will soon be available in video form.)

Legal Battle

How Hollywood Suppresses Filtering

Dear VidAngel customers,

 

Some of you have asked why we filed an antitrust suit against the studios. Here’s the simple answer:

Hollywood claims we don’t pay them for their movies. But the truth is, they refuse to accept our payments. (We still pay them though. Read on.)

 

Beginning in 2014, VidAngel tried to pay the studios 4 different ways. Not only did they reject every one, but then they sued us for allegedly not paying them. So Hollywood’s like the teenage girl who keeps turning down the nice guy, then complains that he never asks her out, then sues him for copyright infringement.

Look, we love Hollywood. We’re glad they make movies. But the fact is, they seem to be working to shut down the filtering industry. Here are the 4 times they rejected our payments.

 

Method 1: Traditional streaming license

VidAngel offered to buy traditional streaming licenses from the studios, but the studios said no. We get it — why partner with such a small company? Except we also reached out through a bigger company called Google. (A cool emerging tech company. Bing it.)

Google approached the studios with a plan to add VidAngel filters to Google Play movies, potentially bringing millions of new viewers to the licensed Google Play streams. The studios turned them down almost immediately.

And bear in mind, the U.S. filtering market is estimated at over 60 million people, according to National Research Group. So if Hollywood said no, they likely either…

 

  1. Want to block the filtering industry from entering the streaming age, OR…
  2. Want to avoid money and its corrupting influence

 

For now, we’ll give the benefit of the doubt and say #2.

Anyway, we also tried…

 

Method 2: YouTube extension

We created a platform that allowed viewers to buy a movie on YouTube, then buy the filter at VidAngel and add it to the movie. We hoped to bring Hollywood more money by attracting new viewers to their content.

Then the studios told Google (YouTube’s owner) that collaborating with VidAngel was a violation of contract, and forced them to withdraw crucial tech support. All of a sudden this model wouldn’t work.

“Wow,” we said. “We admire Hollywood’s moral commitment to not making money.” It certainly explained the release of Fantastic Four.

Nevertheless, we kept trying.

 

Method 3: Buying discs straight from the studios

This time we wrote to the studios asking to buy DVDs and Blu-Rays from them directly, so our customers could buy and sell back those movies online. This model would make money for Hollywood on each title, without giving a cut of sales to WalMart.

Some studios said no. Most never responded.

“Man,” we said, “their hatred of lucre is incorruptible. No wonder they can’t afford to pay actresses the same as actors.”

So nowadays we use…

 

Method 4: Our current model



VidAngel now buys DVDs and Blu-Rays from retail stores, then sells movies directly to customers. Hollywood gets reimbursed by the sheer number of movies we buy (we spend around ⅓ of our revenue on discs). And every VidAngel movie being watched is a licensed copy. It’s literally the only legal model that doesn’t require Hollywood’s cooperation.

We felt proud of ourselves for finding a way to pay Hollywood, despite their best efforts to not be paid. Then they sued us.

 

And here’s where things really get ironic.

Not only did the studios show significant hypocrisy in suing VidAngel for not buying licenses that they refused to sell — but they also claimed that Method 4 was illegal and that Method 2 was the legal way to filter streamed movies. To which we said, “Homeboy, we tried Method 2 and you shut it down!” We’re paraphrasing here.

Hollywood also implied that they sued us as soon as they learned we were using Method 4. The truth is that Albert Podrasky, Disney’s director of anti-piracy, has been using a secret VidAngel account to monitor us for a full year! (Though we’re not sure we understand his job, ‘cause he never watches movies about pirates.) The point is, it seems like Hollywood didn’t sue till we were getting too big for their comfort.

 

Anyway, the studios’ lawsuit has made us question our base assumptions. Maybe Hollywood actually likes money, and they’ve been shutting us down because they hate filtering. If that’s the case, we respect their opinion — filtering’s not for everybody. But they should come out and admit that they hate filtering, instead of pretending the case is about money.

In short, it seems to us that Hollywood is colluding to undermine the filtering industry — despite Congress passing the Family Movie Act to make that industry a reality. (In fact, Congress passed the law because Hollywood was trying to crush filtering.) That’s why we filed an antitrust counterclaim.

So that’s the scoop, VidAngel fans. Wish us luck in the antitrust suit. In the meantime, keep watching movies. We’ll keep you posted.

#SaveFiltering

Disney, Lucasfilm, Warner Brother, & Twentieth Century Fox vs. VidAngel

Disney, Lucasfilm, Warner Brother, & Twentieth Century Fox vs. VidAngel

VidAngel Steals Lawyer From the Studios

Dear VidAngel customers,

 

4 Hollywood studios have accused VidAngel of stealing their movies. That’s not true, but we are stealing their lawyers.

This week Attorney David Quinto, who used to be a lawyer for Disney and Warner Brothers, became the official lawyer of VidAngel. As you may recall, those studios and VidAngel are currently in a legal battle, so Quinto’s pulling a Kevin Durant and switching teams to the inevitable winners.

 

David Quinto is a fairly big deal.

The Hollywood Reporter named him to their list of Top 100 Power Lawyers. In fact, he was ranked #21 on the alphabetical list!

He spent 27 years as a lawyer for the Oscars, and during that time they never got sued for giving Best Actor to Nicholas Cage, so you know he’s good at his job.

 

He has had adventures in 140 countries during his life, including:

  • Outrunning a knife-wielding assailant for close to a kilometer in Rio de Janeiro
  • Escaping the Tuareg insurrection by fleeing Timbuktu aboard a Russian military cargo plane
  • Spending a month in Argentina during the height of the Dirty War and almost being executed in Mendoza (without cause, we should note)
  • Litigating his first case while still in law school and earning two published opinions, one of which has been cited by the Supreme Court

 

These are all true stories. No, WE PROMISE. They really are!

 

Welcome to the family, David!

 

David Quinto: silent guardian, watchful protector.

David Quinto: silent guardian, watchful protector.

Disney v. VidAngel: Round 1

Hi VidAngel customers,

 

We have a new pen-pal. Last month, four studios sent a letter saying:

“Dear VidAngel, you are violating our copyrights. Please stop.
Love, Disney, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, and Lucasfilm”

 

So this week we responded:

“Dear studios, no we are not. Also, you’re violating antitrust laws.
Yours truly, VidAngel”

 

Okay, that’s not word-for-word. But basically, Hollywood said, “Cut it out.” We said, “That’s literally all we do.” (Eh?) And now we’re planning a trip to California to meet our pen-pals in person.

But you want details. Many of you have been asking for a thorough explanation of VidAngel’s legal case. So we’ve organized some of the key arguments below, using quotes from the studios’ complaint and VidAngel’s counter-complaint. Enjoy.

 

Issue I: Payment to copyright holders

The Studios say…

“VidAngel charges users for watching [the studios’] content but has no authorization and pays nothing for the rights it exploits.

“…[B]y cutting out payments to copyright owners, VidAngel is able to offer prices that undercut licensed services…”

But VidAngel says…

“In fact, the opposite is true. VidAngel spends over one-third of its gross revenues to lawfully purchase thousands of DVD and Blu-ray discs, which are then re-sold to VidAngel users. Shown below is the manager of VidAngel’s storage vault pictured with lawfully purchased copies of The Revenant.

 

Leo was lonely in that movie, so we bought him, like, a thousand more Leos

Leo was lonely in that movie, so we bought him like a thousand more Leos. (The Revenant is one of VidAngel’s more than 2,000 titles.)

 

“The majority of VidAngel’s purchases represent sales that would not occur but for its filtering service, because most of VidAngel’s customers would not acquire and watch a particular film without filtering.

“…[The studios] in truth receive the same payment for each of these first sales to VidAngel as they would receive from any [other] lawful first purchaser of their title.”

In other words, VidAngel lawfully reimburses the studios by buying thousands of their discs. The studios’ complaint did not acknowledge this fact.

 

Issue II: Studio permission

The Studios say…

“VidAngel does not have permission to copy Plaintiffs’ movies and television shows or to stream them to VidAngel’s users…

“By running this service without a license, VidAngel blatantly violates the Copyright Act and confers on itself unfair and unlawful advantages vis-à-vis licensed services in the VOD marketplace.”

But VidAngel says…

“[The studios] repeatedly suggest that VidAngel needs their permission to offer a filtering service, despite Congressional law which expressly authorizes VidAngel’s service without need for any such consent.

“[The Family Movie Act] provides that ‘making imperceptible (i.e., filtering)… of limited portions of audio or video… transmitted [e.g., streamed] to [a] household for private viewing, from an authorized copy of the motion picture’ does not violate the Copyright Act.

“…In asking this Court to impose a consent requirement on VidAngel’s filtering service, Plaintiffs are effectively asking that the Court repeal a federal statute enacted to protect American families.”

Meaning, VidAngel does not require a license to filter a movie that customers have already lawfully purchased. That right is protected by the Family Movie Act.

 

Issue III: Uploading DVDs and Blu-rays

The Studios say…

“VidAngel appears to circumvent the technological protection measures on DVDs and Blu-ray discs to create unauthorized copies and then uses those copies to stream Plaintiffs’ works to the public without authorization.

“…VidAngel’s circumvention of the [technological protection measures] violates Section 1201 of the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act].”

But VidAngel says…

“In enacting the Family Movie Act… Congress protected the right of families to filter and view content… in Copyright Act Section 110…

“That section provides that [filtering a streamed motion picture, as described above] does not violate the Copyright Act. Because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is part of the Copyright Act, it is subject to the same exemption.”

“…[The studios] contend that the mere act of creating a decrypted version of a lawfully purchased DVD of their title violates… the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

“VidAngel contends that the making of a decrypted copy as the necessary first step in making a lawfully purchased DVD capable of being filtered is fully consistent with the [Family Movie Act] and otherwise complies with all copyright laws.”

In other words, VidAngel argues that decrypting DVDs is a necessary step in allowing viewers’ movies to be filtered, and is covered under the Family Movie Act.

 

Anyway, you know how pen-pals are. Sometimes you have different opinions about whether your business and livelihood should be permanently shuttered by a court-ordered injunction. LOL! Pen-pals!

Stay tuned for further updates, including a future blog post about our antitrust counter-claim. And thank you, VidAngel fans, for your support throughout this process. It means a lot.

 

Thanks a million,

VidAngel

#SaveFiltering

 

You can read the rest of our counterclaim here.

VidDavid vs. Gollywood . It's like the Bible story, except this time the giant is the Jewish one.

VidDavid vs. Gollywood 

Introducing the VidAngel Lawyers

Dear VidAngel users,

 

We have good news and bad news.

The good news: We’ve been discovered. A group of Hollywood producers has recognized our potential, called the right people, and offered us the chance to showcase our talents on a national stage.

The bad news: ‘Cause they’re suing us.

 

As you may have already heard, VidAngel is being sued by Warner Brothers (creators of Catwoman), Twentieth Century Fox (Fantastic Four), Disney (John Carter), and Lucasfilm (Star Wars Holiday Special).

Those are 4 big players. Luckily, we’ve brought in some big players too.

VidAngel will be represented in this case by Baker Marquart, the law firm that recently obtained a landmark copyright ruling for another innovative company that threatens the traditional Hollywood model.

“Ooh, a copyright case,” you are probably saying to yourself, adrenaline coursing through your veins.

Last year, a streaming company called FilmOn was being sued by some major television networks and studios, including ABC (a division of Disney) and Fox. The networks said FilmOn violated their copyright, and demanded that it be shut down. But FilmOn argued back that its model was legal, and the studios should be required to give it licensing.

This debate was not new. The streaming company Aereo actually made a similar argument and lost. So FilmOn was facing an uphill battle against the studios one that everyone expected them to lose.

Enter Baker Marquart. With their representation, FilmOn obtained a landmark ruling in the Central District that FilmOn could legally apply for the same compulsory licenses available to large cable companies (an appeal will be argued this August).

 

So just to recap, Baker Marquart:

  1. Recently obtained a landmark copyright ruling
  2. Represents other innovative companies in the entertainment industry
  3. Beat the Mouse and the Fox in court.
  4. Attended law school for 3 years apiece!

Needless to say, we swooned. And hired Baker Marquart.

 

You may be thinking, “Wow, I guess VidAngel must have enough lawyers now.”

You can never have enough lawyers. That’s why we had our legal opinion written by David Quinto, the top-rated lawyer who represented the Oscars for 27 years. Yeah, 27 years! His first Oscars night was so long ago, some of the nominees were black.

The point is, we’re very proud of our legal team. We’re confident about our case. And we’re excited to tell our story to the judge.

 

Thanks for your support, and stay tuned for further updates,

VidAngel

#weareready

Lady Justice is blindfolded so she doesn't have to look at nudity.

Lady Justice is blindfolded so she doesn’t have to look at nudity.