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FILTERED OUT

A service that lets you censor movies at home is being sued by Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros.

By Corinne Purtill

Disney, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Entertainment are suing a video streaming site that lets home viewers tailor Hollywood movies to their personal moral standards.

Provo, Utah-based VidAngel launched in Aug. 2015, with the stated goal of letting viewers watch self-censored versions of popular films and TV shows.

As the company describes its business model, customers buy movies on the site for $20 that they can sell back for the full purchase price after viewing, minus a $1 fee for standard definition films or $2 for HD. They then check filters showing what content they want removed—nudity, profanity, violence—and watch a movie pre-scrubbed of anything they’d find objectionable for moral or religious reasons.

The company has argued that their service is legal under the Family Movie Act of 2005, a law that specifically exempts from copyright law any technology that hides or mutes portions of audio or video during at-home viewing.

Hollywood has a long history of going after companies that distribute censored versions of their films. The plaintiffs in this suit argue that VidAngel is using the Family Movie Act to make money by renting out movies without permission.

“There is a fundamental difference between VidAngel and licensed VOD services: VidAngel does not have permission to copy Plaintiffs’ movies and television shows or to stream them to VidAngel’s users,” the suit states, arguing that VidAngel’s technology circumvents technological protections in DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. “VidAngel is not ‘selling’ movies. VidAngel is simply providing an unauthorized dollar-a-day VOD rental service.”

The studios are seeking an injunction, plus compensation or profits.

The company contends that its services are legal. Prior to launch, the founder said, the company sent letters to 17 studios informing them of their plans. None complained.

“VidAngel respects copyright law and compensates the plaintiff content producers,” CEO Neal Harmon wrote in an e-mail. “VidAngel’s purpose as a company from its inception has been to deliver a viable, modern technology for families and individuals who want to filter their content.” The company would address specifics in a future filing, he said.

On their blog, the company was more cocksure. “We’ve hired great Hollywood attorneys,” Harmon wrote. “We’re as confident now as we were when we launched that filtering a DVD or Blu-ray you own on your favorite devices is your right. We’re ready.”

This story was updated with comment from Neal Harmon.