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VidAngel Flies Again, With Different Wings

With a Howard Dean-like scream, CEO Neal Harmon announced: "VidAngel's Back."

That came in a live streamed event Tuesday evening announcing that the content-filtering service is back in business with a new business model.

Rather than buying DVD copies and charging subs for streamed, filtered versions, which a federal court has enjoined them from doing at the request of some major Hollywood studios, they will be filtering streams of content, via an app, from Netflix, Amazon and HBO, that users have already paid to stream.

That is, all but content from the four studios that are suing them—Disney, Fox, Time Warner and LucasFilm.

In oral argument before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week, one of the studio's main issues was that VidAngel decrypts a disk to copy and filter it, which the studios say violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibition on such decryption, and is not permitted by the Family Movie Act exemption for filtering, which they say is confined to DVDs, not streaming.

Harmon said the company will continue to fight the injunction and those studio arguments. Peter Striss, the attorney who argued the case and appeared pro bono to update the audience on the legal proceedings, said that fight could go all the way to the Supreme Court given that there is a split in the circuits on the encryption issue. He said VidAngel was not striking the flag on that challenge by taking the app approach, but suggested that discs wouldn't be around that much longer anyway.

Harmon said that, in the interim, a new model that does not involve copying gets around that problem, though they said the studios would probably take issue with this business model as well. But Harmon said VidAngel is not folding, and that Tuesday, six months from the day the preliminary injunction was announced, the company site was back up—though he did say it was suffering from a DDoS attack from some folks who didn't want them back.

VidAngel's filtering app can be tailored to filter out language, nudity, violence, "trigger scenes," or any combination thereof.

Harmon said with the new business model, it would only be filtering content already being streamed, so there was no issue of preempting streaming windows with online versions of DVDs, one of the studio's big issues with the service. He said that the studios have signaled that if VidAngel charges to filter movies that have already been licensed for streaming, that isn't a problem and avoids the problem of undercutting pricing or jumping release dates or exclusive windows.

He played a clip of a Disney lawyer telling the Ninth Circuit that if VidAngel wanted to change its business model, it could go back to the court to have them modify the injunction,

As of now, Harmon said, VidAngel can filter "all the content that is out there" he said, with the exception of those four studios. He said if those studios really don't oppose filtering, as they claim and which he does not believe is the case, then VidAngel's new model does not undercut pricing for any of its streaming windows, so they should be OK with it, which he doesn't believe will be the case either, he said.

Harmon said the studios want filtering content to be "painful and inaccessible" but that filterers should not be considered second-class citizens. And with the new streaming-based model, he said they can have that filtering oin their HDTVs, phones, iPads, Roku devices, and Xboxes, "wherever the 'bleep' you want it."

Harmon said if he is right and the studios still object to the new model, they need to go to Congress because it will "see the truth," which is that studios want to block filtering period.

But Harmon did give a shout out to Sony for breaking ranks, as he put it, and making some two dozen airline versions of films available on Fandango, iTunes and Vudu. He told his Facebook audience to vote with their wallets because Hollywood is watching. He also told them to contact their representatives in Congress and let them know they supported filtering.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.