Filtering the filters
Studios try to stop VidAngel from making their films and shows more palatable to families
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.”
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
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.
‘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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