Culture

VidAngel vs. Hollywood

There's a service that helps edit movies and shows for explicit content. Guess who's fought to make sure the smut stays?

Brian Mark Weber · Jun. 30, 2017

It wasn’t that long ago when parents could monitor what their children watched on television and at the movies, a time when even the production studios seemed to be more in line with the values of ordinary Americans. But now more than ever, it’s harder to protect our children from very negative outside influences.

Sure, Hollywood has always pushed the boundaries of decency, but now that just about every teenager in the country walks around with a smart phone, the major motion picture studios are able to bypass adults and permeate the minds of our children with fewer checks.

Today, however, the very technologies that seemed to take the power of discretion out of the hands of parents and put it in the hands of movie studio executives are now providing parents with a way to check what their children are watching on their computers and mobile devices.

A service launched by VidAngel enables viewers to filter content streamed from Netflix, Amazon and HBO. Millions of American parents concerned about exposing their children to profane language, sex and violence in Hollywood features will now have the ability to block selected content from movies.

VidAngel believes that its service differs from those of other companies in that it doesn’t offer pre-edited copies of films, but instead provides viewers with the ability to determine which content they find objectionable.

But don’t think for a moment that Big Hollywood will sit by and cede this ground to concerned parents. In fact, VidAngel’s upgraded service is a response to an ongoing lawsuit filed last summer by Disney, Lucasfilm, Warner Bro. Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox. A court ruled against VidAngel last December and temporarily suspended its service.

VidAngel CEO Neil Harmon doesn’t seem concerned, though. “In past court arguments,” he noted, “they have said streaming would be acceptable, but that what we were doing with decryption of DVDs was what they opposed. So following the injunction six months ago, we began to focus entirely on a workable format with streaming. This should be an acceptable solution, then, based on their own arguments, and their past actions.”

Apparently, other companies that allow VidAngel on their apps, such as Roku, Apple, Google Play and Amazon, were not concerned about the legalities of the service either, or they wouldn’t have agreed to connect to VidAngel’s filtering service.

The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, signed by President George W. Bush, protects individuals and companies from copyright infringement under specific circumstances. And the VidAngel service seems to fall within the scope of the act.

Some Republican lawmakers have responded directly to VidAngel’s legal dispute by sending a letter to the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. The letter is signed by Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and Reps. Mia Love, Rob Bishop, and Chris Stewart.

Typically, the debate over copyrighted material results in one side or the other claiming victory. But isn’t it possible to provide parents with the option to filter content while still respecting the content rights of the motion picture industry?

Senator Hatch seems to think so: “Families should have the choice to screen out profanity, violence, and other objectionable content from movies and television shows if they want to. At the same time, it’s essential that we protect content creators’ intellectual property rights.”

For now, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that’s long been hostile toward traditional values and the Constitution, will determine if VidAngel’s service violates the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act. Thus far, the courts have ruled against VidAngel and in favor of the big movie studios.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that the studios have some questions they’d like to have answered, such as, “Does the new service purchase a digital transmission for every customer or one master copy? Does it purchase a digital download or rent a stream? How does the technology ensure its content library matches that of the licensed service from which the customer has supposedly purchased a stream? How is VidAngel protecting against piracy? Is VidAngel using any quality-control measures? And so on.”

These are legitimate questions, but don’t parents have a right to determine what content their children are watching? After all, these parents aren’t clamoring for censorship. They simply want to protect their own children from content that’s increasingly at odds with their values.

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