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Studios Win Against Streaming Movie Filters

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 31, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You gotta respect video-streaming companies that clean up movies for family-friendly viewing.

After all, they are trying to to protect kids from profanity, sex, nudity, violence, and substance abuse depicted in original movies. Parents will pay to block those cringey moments when the family sits down for viewing.

But that's not a good reason to violate copyright laws, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in Disney Enterprises, Inc. v. VidAngel, Inc. It was a victory for Hollywood studios and a benchmark in their battle against copyright piracy.

"Clean" Versions

The decision stemmed from a dispute between VidAngel, a Utah-based start-up. and entertainment giants Walt Disney, LucasFilm, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros Entertainment. The studios won a preliminary injunction against the video-streaming service for ripping their movies and selling the clean versions online.

VidAngel appealed, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The appeals court rejected the company's defense that it purchased the movies on DVD and Blu-ray discs legally.

"If the mere purchase of an authorized copy alone precluded infringement liability, the statute would severely erode the commercial value of the public performance right in the digital context, permitting, for example, unlicensed streams which filter out only a movie's credits," Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote.

Only in Utah

In a plot twist, Hurwitz quoted Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch to defeat the VidAngel claim. Hatch sponsored the Family Home Movie Act, which allows viewers to filter unwanted content from "authorized" copies of movies.

The senator said that filtering to justify copyright infringement "should be rejected as counter to legislative intent or technological necessity," Reuters reported.

VidAngel changed its streaming service before the decision, but said afterwards it would continue its efforts to filter content.

"While all of the legal back-and-forth plays out, we know our customers are grateful to still have a way to protect their kids and filter harmful content," CEO Neal Harmon said. "On the legal front, we are just getting started."

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