The Ninth Circuit recently affirmed an injunction shutting down movie filtering service VidAngel, Inc. because doing otherwise would create a loophole in copyright law, according to the court.
The Copyright Lawsuits
Three big movie companies — Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios, and Twentieth Century Fox — won the case against VidAngel’s attempt to overturn an injunction against it. The three judge panel affirmed the lower court’s injunction and rejected VidAngel’s various defenses, requiring the company remain shut down.
Last December the movie filtering company was forced to close down after a U.S. District Judge ruled that the allegations from several movie studios that VidAngel was violating copyright laws were likely going to succeed. The streaming services offers family-friendly versions of films by filtering out nudity, offensive language, and other inappropriate content from mainstream films. The company does the filtering without a license and claims its service is exempt under the federal Family Movie Act (FMA) from copyright claims. VidAngel also claimed its service is lawfully allowed under the fair use doctrine within copyright law. This doctrine requires some alteration in a copyrighted work that creates a new work.
The court disagreed on both points. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit noted the FMA mandates that a filtering service use an authorized copy of the movie. VidAngel contends that because it decrypts and copies onto a server lawfully purchased DVD copies its service starts with “authorized” copies. Writing the opinion for the panel, Judge Andrew David Hurwitz noted VidAngel’s interpretation of the FMA would create a giant loophole in copyright law that would allow infringement as long as some content is filtered and a lawfully copy of the work was purchased at some point during the process. The judge noted nearly all piracy of movies originates from a legitimate copy of the film. Likewise, unlike the allowable use under the fair use doctrine removing objectionable material did not necessarily create a new work.
A week after the decision, VidAngel launched a new filtering service of Netflix and Amazon. Of note, no court has ruled on the legality of filtering on these platforms. In order to comply with the courts’ injunction, VidAngel must avoid filtering any content owned by the plaintiff studios. These include Lucas Film, Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.
If you or someone you know has questions about copyright law or is facing any other issues regarding intellectual property, contact a knowledgeable intellectual property lawyer right away. This area of the law can be confusing and is constantly changing by court rulings. In order to protect yourself and your intellectual property, you should learn about your rights and obligations under the law right away.