In the Unites States, copyright law is very clear - the creator owns the content and any alterations and redistributions without permission are not legal. It's nearly that black-and-white. There are exceptions, for content like parody or review, which fall under fair use. One thing you cannot do is edit someone else's content to your own liking and resell the content. That is, however, exactly the business model of VidAngel. The company bills itself as a service that allows you to filter out unwanted content from films. For example, you can remove the iconic gold bikini scene from Star Wars, to prevent children from seeing a swimsuit.
A number of organizations believed that this behavior was not only unacceptable but illegal. Those organizations were 20th Century Fox, Disney, Lucasfilm and Warner Brothers, who filed suit against VidAngel, claiming copyright infringement. It doesn't take a legal expert to know that charging money to alter someone else's content is absolutely copyright infringement, but VidAngel disagreed, trying to shield themselves with the Family Movie Act (FMA) from 2005. Unfortunately for the company, the law allows an individual to crack content to remove objectionable content for their own personal use, without saving the altered content. It does not allow for a company to redistribute, without permission, altered versions of content.
This week, the case was closed by the appeals court for the ninth circuit. The court agreed with the content owners, stating that VidAngel had absolutely broken the law while altering the content. The decision said,
Star Wars is still Star Wars, even without Princess Leia's bikini scene.
That is important because that disqualifies it from being considered a "remix" - a practice that is popular, and more importantly legal, in music, wherein an original piece of music is sufficiently altered as to produce a new, unique piece of music. By removing a few scenes here and there, it does not qualify the end result as new content. The court also said,
VidAngel's interpretation would create a giant loophole in copyright law, sanctioning infringement so long as it filters some content and a copy of the work was lawfully purchased at some point. But virtually all piracy of movies originates in some way from a legitimate copy. If the mere purchase of an authorized copy alone precluded infringement liability under the FMA, the statute would severely erode the commercial value of the public performance right in the digital context, permitting, for example, unlicensed streams which filter out only a movie's credits.
As a company that produces and distributes original content, it is good to see the court upholding copyright standards. Content producers spend a lot of time and money to produce a piece exactly as they want. The work that goes into our shows can be immense, and we would not want versions of our content to be distributed, without our permission, in a manner different from how we intended. For example, the editing of an interview could potentially change the context of a conversation, embarrassing our team, or worse, our guest. To do the same to a multi-million dollar movie could produce even bigger issues, both artistically and financially.