Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Filtering the filters

Entertainment | Studios try to stop VidAngel from making their films and shows more palatable to families
by Mary Jackson
Posted 6/28/19, 04:37 pm

VidAngel, a company that filters profanity, sex, and violence from movies and online streaming shows, has incurred the wrath of Hollywood film companies since its inception.

Now, it faces an uphill battle after a federal judge ruled last week it must pay $62.4 million in damages to studios that accuse it of copyright infringement. VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon called the ruling “unjust on many levels” and vowed to appeal it. The per-work judgment, which assigns a fee for each alleged instance of copyright violation, is one of the highest ever assigned in a massive infringement case.

The studios, led by Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros., also filed a separate claim this week stating that VidAngel is trying to hide its assets ahead of the collection of those damages. The Utah-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017 after a judge issued a preliminary injunction against it one year prior, causing the company to close down its service for a time.

Harmon, who founded VidAngel with his brothers in 2013, told me Disney and the other studios involved have been aware of all the company’s dealings and transactions through public filings and communications made months ago: “This is an effort to twist and smear. We are hiding nothing. What’s really happening here is the studios don’t want people to skip and mute things without their permission.”

VidAngel is still operational and has more than 1 million users, according to its legal counsel, David Quinto. It charges subscribers $7.99 a month to access movies and streaming content from Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, then allows them to set filters, choosing what their family will see and hear. Previously, the company used a complicated check-in system that only allowed users to watch filtered movies on DVD.

Since the 2016 injunction, VidAngel has been prohibited from offering its users any content from the studios involved in the litigation, including Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and a growing list of companies they own. VidAngel has fought the court challenge with a robust legal and public relations defense, arguing filtering content is legal under the federal Family Movie Act of 2005, which states that consumers can tweak movies for personal viewing.

Harmon says VidAngel causes no financial harm to studios and has actually brought them profit, since viewers pay for DVD copies of films and for existing streaming accounts.

Parents Television Council President Tim Winter called last week’s ruling against VidAngel “tragic.” In a statement last week, Winter entreated Congress to update the Family Movie Act, bringing it “into the 21st Century” and preventing “a death knell for content filtering.”

“It is beyond ironic that a company named after Walt Disney would sue to prevent the filtering of graphic sex, violence, profanity and other explicit content from movies,” Winter said.

Meanwhile, VidAngel has been producing original content, including Dry Bar Comedy, a profanity-free stand-up series with 1.5 billion views to date, and The Chosen, a TV drama about the life of Jesus that was released earlier this year following a crowdfunding campaign that raised $10.2 million.

In an open letter to Disney CEO Robert Iger last week, Harmon offered to give Disney its Dry Bar Comedy series in order to settle VidAngel’s “‘so-called debt,’” allowing the company to donate its filtering assets to Skip Foundation and focus on its production company.

But VidAngel is simultaneously preparing its appeal. “We’re going to fight,” Harmon told me. “Either we’re going to prevail, or the system will tell us it’s not possible.”

Associated Press/Photo by Alessandra Tarantino Associated Press/Photo by Alessandra Tarantino U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe (front) during the Women’s World Cup match against Spain on Monday

Simmering on the sidelines

Controversy back home awaits U.S. soccer players at the end of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which they are favored to win. Last weekend, the news broke that players had agreed to mediation in a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, the national governing body for the sport, over unequal pay. U.S. Soccer claims that the women’s pay, which is lower than what male players receive, was decided according to “legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose,” according to court documents.

Meanwhile, player Megan Rapinoe garnered criticism from President Donald Trump over remarks she made in January that she would not visit the White House if the United States won the Women’s World Cup. The comments recirculated on the internet in recent weeks, and Trump tweeted Wednesday that “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.” Rapinoe stirred controversy in 2016 by kneeling during the National Anthem, but she stopped after U.S. Soccer made a policy against the practice. Trump said he would invite the U.S. women’s national soccer team to the White House after the World Cup whether or not they win. Rapinoe, who is lesbian, and several teammates said they still don’t plan to attend, citing their disagreements with the administration’s policies on immigration and LGBTQ issues. The United States plays France on Friday in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. —Lynde Langdon

Associated Press/Photo by Philippe Lopez Associated Press/Photo by Philippe Lopez Members of the Milan-Cortina delegation in Lausanne, Switzerland, celebrate winning the right to host the Winter Olympics.

‘Italia! Italia!’

Italy’s Milan-Cortina won its bid to stage the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, beating out Sweden’s Stockholm-Are, in a week that also brought radical changes to how Olympic hosts are picked.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) members voted 47-34 on Monday in favor of Milan-Cortina, giving the Alpine nation its second Winter Games in 20 years and causing its jubilant delegation to break out into chants of “Italia! Italia!”

Sweden has never hosted the Winter Games, and the bid, which included a bobsled track in Latvia, represents its eighth unsuccessful attempt in 41 years. IOC President Thomas Bach cited “the gap in public support” as the reason Sweden lost.

Meanwhile, in an effort to avoid negative headlines and ire from local taxpayers, the IOC voted on Wednesday to implement changes in its selection process. Now, Olympic bidders must use existing and temporary venues and infrastructure, steering away from expensive construction projects.

The IOC also created new Olympic panels that will recommend candidates for election, and it approved a new, flexible campaign timetable, putting an end to the rule that requires hosts to be voted on seven years ahead of the Summer and Winter Games. —M.J.

ABC/Photo by Mark Bourdillon ABC/Photo by Mark Bourdillon Hannah Brown (center) and Luke Parker (right) on The Bachelorette

‘I can do whatever’

The Bachelorette star Hannah Brown, who says she is a Christian, wants to tell the world that premarital sex is OK. On Monday night’s episode of the popular matchmaking reality show on ABC, the Alabama native admitted, “I have had sex, and honestly, Jesus still loves me.”

Brown’s comments ignited controversy, particularly when she clashed with male contestant Luke Parker, also a professing Christian, who has said he is saving sex for marriage. Parker told Brown that he would like to leave the show if she has sex with “one or multiple of these guys.” His Biblical understanding of sex drew accusations of “toxic masculinity,” “gaslighting,” and “shaming.”

Later, Brown told Entertainment Tonight, “I can do whatever—I sin daily … It’s all washed and if the Lord doesn’t judge me and it’s all forgiven, then no other man, woman … can judge me.” —M.J.

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Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. Follow her on Twitter @mbjackson77.

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  • DS
    Posted: Sun, 06/30/2019 11:02 pm

    Good for Luke.

  • NT
    Posted: Mon, 07/01/2019 02:10 pm

    I really can't accept that the VidAngel case is about stopping "the filtering of graphic sex, violence, profanity and other explicit content from movies," so much as it is about blatant violations of copyright laws. Selling an edited version of a copyrighted work without permission is a violation of federal law.

  • DS
    Posted: Mon, 07/01/2019 05:15 pm

    Well, think about it this way: what if your kids wanted to watch a movie that had one or more of the above problems in only one scene that didn't have much to do with the story anyway, easily skipped, the kids loose nothing over it. Would you skip the scene without VidAngel? Would you edit the movie with programs such as Nero (my dad did this with Princess Bride, and it's the only version I've seen)? So, technically, VidAngel is helping Disney and Co. by filtering out unhelpful/unnecessary content out, such as a long, mushy, overly-drawn-out kissing scene (as between Aragorn and Arwen in The Two Towers) or worse things, such as overly gory content in R rated war movies ( blood everywhere, intestines hanging out of bodies, etc) or a scene with an officer with a BIG problem with language (in the senario that this is all unnecessary to the story and is easily taken out).

    Also, if it was a problem with copyright laws, don't you think Disney would have said so back in 2013 when VidAngel was started? As it turns out, Disneys purpose in this is to clear a way for their own "VidAngel" program.

  • not silent
    Posted: Mon, 07/01/2019 04:39 pm

    Re The Bachelorette: I guess it isn't new that the strongest messages from media, etc. twist God's word so that he appears like a tyrant who wants to keep people from loving each other, from learning, and from pleasure. What really makes me sad about this is that believers are so deceived they are now promoting this message.  

    The strongest lies have elements of truth.  It is TRUE that the blood of Jesus washes us free from sin, but the Bible never condones continuing in willful sin.  "What shall we say, then?  Are we to continue to sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?"  Romans 6:1-2 (ESV)

    "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin." Romans 6:6-7 (ESV)

    It's the oldest lie on earth that God will not meet our needs, that he is withholding knowledge, and that he forbids pleasure.  In reality, he wants to PROTECT us from getting ensnared in things that will HARM us!  A pastor I once saw preached a sermon holding two parfait glasses.  Both were topped by whipped cream, but one had liver and motor oil at the bottom and the other had ice cream at the bottom.  As he talked, he took bites from both glasses; and the audience cringed when it was the one with liver and motor oil. His point was that as long as he was eating the whipped cream, they both tasted good; but eventually he would get to the bottom and find either ice cream or liver and motor oil.  "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be mastered by anything." 1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV)

    God wants us to have ice cream, not motor oil; and it's not shaming for him to point out the difference-it's loving.

  • DS
    Posted: Mon, 07/01/2019 05:37 pm

    You took the words right out of my, ah, fingers.

    "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 (ESV)


  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 07/03/2019 12:52 pm

    When it comes to choosing between “entertainment” polluted by bad language etc., or entertainment that has been “cleaned up” by a program like VidAngel, there is a third choice:

    We can choose to live our lives without the “benefits” of entertainment produced by those who are intent on degrading and coarsening our culture. Why should our dollars go to enrich those who hate God, hate us, hate our values, and want to destroy all of these?

  • WORLD User 253263
    Posted: Thu, 07/25/2019 08:07 pm

    As long as VidAngel requires their customers to purchase an unedited DVD along with the edited version, then the movie companies are still getting "their share." I think the copyright laws have gone waaaayyy past what they were originally intended to do. In the past, movie companies have argued that editing their films violated their intent. many movie companies have taken a novel and made their own "version" of the story, violating the author's intent! I propose it's not really about movie companies losing profits as it is about losing the control over what viewers see. It's a power thing.