Movie-Altering Company VidAngel Ordered to Pay Studios $62 Million

Posted on June 24, 2019 at 7:59 am

Parents often ask for “airplane versions” of movies, edited to be more family friendly. Studios, who authorize edited versions for international release and broadcast television, don’t like it when the editing is done by others. After some lawsuits, Congress passed a law to make it clear that independent companies have the right to make these edits. It authorizes private companies to edit out material.

But technology has a way of moving faster than the law, and it was one thing when parents would buy a video or DVD and then authorize an independent firm to alter it, but another when it comes to streaming. A judge found that their streaming service was a violation of the studio’s copyrights. A jury has now awarded $62 million to Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers, and the studios have filed a motion with the court to prevent VidAngel from “squandering assets” to make sure they will pay it.

This is a complicated issue. On the one hand, the creators of content are entitled to copyright protection. On the other hand, once you buy a movie, they do not have the right to make you watch every minute of it. So why not give you the option of relying on an outside firm to skip the parts you don’t want to see or hear? I agree that the streaming option they offered, which was more like a rental than a purchase, was not consistent with the copyright exemption in the law. I am particularly concerned with the way this case has been discussed in the right-wing media, as, for example, this headline from the ultra-right Federalist, co-founded by Meghan McCain’s husband Ben Domenech, and famous for refusing to be transparent about its funding: “Hollywood Punishes VidAngel For Cleaning Up Their Smut.” It’s actually the law which is punishing VidAngel for infringing on copyright-protected creative work. I’m pretty sure The Federalist would not want VidAngel to sell edited copies of their newsletter or radio show. And it would not want the government to tell a business like a movie studio that a PG-13 movie is too “smutty.”

This judgment, if upheld, may put VidAngel out of business. Or, Congress can amend the law again to clarify what they can legally do. It was an imperfect solution at best, and whatever happens, we can be sure that technology will overtake any attempt at a solution and parents will always need to be vigilant.

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