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Hollywood Studios Prevail Against Family-Friendly Video Streaming Site

September 14, 2017
Post by Brandon W. Clark

In a 3-0 ruling, a federal appeals court sided with Disney, Warner Bros., and Twentieth Century Fox by affirming an injunction that shut down movie filtering service VidAngel, Inc., saying that a ruling to the contrary would “create a giant loophole in copyright law”.

VidAngel is a video filtering service that lets users stream films without nudity, violence, and alcohol and drug use. The company buys DVDs of movies and TV shows, then “rips” decrypted copies to computers, and ultimately streams “clean” versions of the content to customers.

The injunction upholds a preliminary injunction that was granted in December and appealed by VidAngel which based their defense on the obscure federal Family Movie Act (FMA) and fair use. The Court rejected VidAngels’ argument based on the many unintended consequences likely to occur if they adopted VidAngels’ position.

“If the mere purchase of an authorized copy alone precluded infringement liability,” Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote, “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”.

The ruling is a win for the Hollywood studios and more broadly, copyright owners, as it affirms and reinforces the copyright owner’s right to create derivative works under17 U.S.C. § 106. While there may be a market for the service VidAngel provides, it’s a long-standing principle that only the owner of a copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, an adaptation of that work. 

The case is Disney Enterprises Inc et al v VidAngel Inc, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-56843.

Brandon W. Clark is the Chair of the Copyright, Entertainment & Media Law Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information, please visit www.ipmvs.com or contact Brandon directly via email at brandon.clark@ipmvs.com.


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