The debate over sanitising films with ‘clean’ versions edited for objectionable content took a new turn today with a court ruling against the VOD streaming service VidAngel according to ArsTechnica.
The service buys movie discs, decrypts, rips them and then streams versions that allow customers to filter out nudity, profanity, and violence to make it family friendly. Some 2,500 different film titles in all were available on the service.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled that the service is breaking US copyright law and breached the rights of Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. Pictures. They indicate VidAngel didn’t have the permission in the first place to stream the content.
As a result they don’t fall under the protection of fair use or the 2005 Family Movie Act, the latter allows the cracking of encryption to remove objectionable material as long as no fixed copy of the new altered version is created:
“Star Wars is still Star Wars, even without Princess Leia’s bikini scene…. VidAngel’s interpretation would create a giant loophole in copyright law, sanctioning infringement so long as it filters some content and a copy of the work was lawfully purchased at some point. But virtually all piracy of movies originates in some way from a legitimate copy.
If the mere purchase of an authorized copy alone precluded infringement liability under the FMA, 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 appeals court upheld a lower court decision that issued a December injunction against the VidAngel service, which recently raised $10 million. The service was shut down in December and now will remain so, but they did recently start a new service in June that filters Amazon and Netflix streams. There hasn’t yet been a court ruling on this service.