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.
- We teamed up with Google to filter their licensed Google Play movies, but Hollywood told Google no.
- We tried to license directly and the studios said no, even though we had the money.
- We tried to buy discs directly and they said no.
- 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:
- The movie is an authorized copy
- Watched in the privacy of the home, and…
- 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.
- The DMCA doesn’t apply here
- We didn’t break it anyway, and…
- 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:
- 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.
- Go to SaveFiltering.com and sign the petition to help protect VidAngel. Every voice matters.
- 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.)