Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Employees work at VidAngel's office in Provo on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.
In the recent Deseret News editorial, “VidAngel and clean movies” (Dec. 26) you unnecessarily oversimplified this very complex issue. You asserted that the entire edited film “rental industry has faded into obsolescence,” which is not true since ClearPlay has operated legally for more than a decade now with the passage of the Family Entertainment Copyright Act of 2005 (FECA).
You also wrote that “the consumer appetite for edited versions of mainstream Hollywood films has never been greater.” This may be true among Latter-day Saints and some additional groups of viewers outside of the Intermountain West, but this is largely driven by Latter-day Saints, and most outside the faith find it odd that we assert the “right” to watch films edited. Many would question why we are watching these films at all if they are so offensive in the first place, thus increasing the revenue for such films.
You also claim that “Hollywood refuses to release cleaned-up versions of major releases to consumers,” which is simply incorrect. Studios have released edited versions of major films for nearly 70 years through television, airlines and other venues. It is argued that “at the same time [Hollywood] does everything in its power to prevent other private companies from meeting this overwhelming demand.” This is also an inaccurate representation of the facts.
In the early 1990s, the Dove Foundation arranged for certain edited versions of films (e.g. "The Mask," 1994 and "Blast from the Past," 1999) to be released on home video through New Line Cinema, but it never really took off for a variety of reasons. During the legal battle with ClearPlay before the FECA was passed, there was talk of the studios and directors allowing ClearPlay to use the television and airline edited versions, but since this would make the company’s technology obsolete, they walked away from the compromise.
Unlike the claim that the major “studios need to either pursue this market [for sanitized films] or step aside and allow others the opportunity,” we need to realize that some studios do attempt to accommodate this need, but conflating all the Hollywood studios and directors into one monolithic consensus on the subject is quite irresponsible. These studios are divided over new technologies, ancillary markets, residual payments and artistic rights. They are anything but a united force with regard to this issue. In addition, many of these studios cannot release edited versions of films to television, airlines or other venues because of certain contractual obligations with the directors and production companies of these films. With disagreements among themselves and the need to meet a national and international market, it is not always in their economic best interest to allow third parties to provide such services.
I am personally sympathetic to both sides of the issues, and I think both sides raise valid points, but the issue should not be reduced to VidAngel wanting to provide the “right” for consumers to watch films as they wish and the evil studios not allowing it. This is a gross oversimplification of the issue. The public does not have a right to see films by directors and studios the way the consumer wishes. It has a right to purchase or not purchase a product or service legally provided.
VidAngel should not make the mistake of portraying itself as the victim of a Hollywood monolith. It is in this to make a profit just like the studios are. The problem is that it chooses not to follow the guidelines provided in FECA for it to legally provide its service. It instead sought the very questionable business practice of “selling” the disc to the consumer and then “buying” it back, while streaming the content without the legal right to do so.
The issue is really about copyright, not about content. There needs to be compromise on both sides. When ClearPlay, and now VidAngel, choose to antagonize and fight the studios on these issues, everyone loses in the long run. This is why few still use ClearPlay and why VidAngel appears to be on track to suffer a worse fate.
Michael Cornick is a professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He is the author of "Cut, Spliced, and Dubbed for the Sky: Film Censorship and the Airline Industry" and "Modern Film Censorship: Television, Airlines, and Home Entertainment."