A California jury awarded Disney and other Hollywood movie studio plaintiffs $62.4 million in damages Monday following a trial to assess damages against video filtering service VidAngel.
VidAngel offers a service that filters out content of movies and television shows that may be objectionable to some viewers like nudity, profanity and violence.
2014: VidAngel's early days
January 2014: Soft opening
VidAngel opened its virtual doors to the public in 2014, developing a new video player and soft launching its service in January.
In its earliest days, VidAngel functioned as a Google Chrome extension. The service focused heavily on YouTube, billing itself as a "Wikipedia for YouTube filters." It also offered filters for Google Play movies and TV shows for a premium price. Users had to stream and filter on their PCs and Macs as the service wasn't yet available on smartphones, tablets or streaming platforms like Roku and Apple TV.
April 2014: VidAngel logo
VidAngel unveiled thefirst iteration of its "bumper," the animated logo that appears at the beginning of filtered films.
July 2014: YouTube deems VidAngel ads inappropriate
The startup ran into its first bout of controversy that summer with its viral "Paintball" ad that depicted a family being lambasted by paintballs symbolizing the amount of swear words families face from Hollywood movies. But those who browsed YouTube in "Safety Mode" may not have seen the ad, as YouTube flagged it as inappropriate for "Safety Mode" browsing due to "mild violence," according to a VidAngel blog post.
August 2014: Official VidAngel launch
VidAngel officially launched that August with roughly six employees.
2015: VidAngel gets its wings
April 2015: "Sell-back" feature
By this point, VidAngel's "sell-back" feature was a popular and prominent part of the clean-streaming experience. The website allowed customers to purchase a movie for $20 and then stream the film to their device. Viewers then had 24 hours to return the film for $18 in VidAngel credit. That credit could be used toward a later $20 purchase of a movie or TV show, meaning VidAngel users would only have to pay $2 to stream HD films and television shows.
May 2015: Customer complaints
As VidAngel's userbase skyrocketed, so did questions about the company's commitment to virtuous entertainment. Customers complained about the inclusion of HBO's "Game of Thrones," "The Wolf of Wallstreet" and "Fifty Shades of Gray" in VidAngel's catalog. VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon responded by saying that he would personally "choose not to watch much of the content on VidAngel due to the nature of the movies," but he maintained that VidAngel would continue to offer consumers the choice to watch such films and television shows.
July 2015: VidAngel app
VidAngel's iOS app hit Apple's App Store, bringing the streaming service to even more devices and widening its userbase.
September 2015: Cinematic rebranding
VidAngel revamped its logo, built a new darker, "cinematic" website and rolled out its tagline, "Watch Movies However The BLEEP You Want."
October 2015: $1 movies
VidAngel launched $1 dollar movie streaming for every SD (think DVD-quality) movie on its site through its "sell-back" feature. Customers could buy SD versions of films and sell them back for $19 as opposed to $18, effectively allowing users to stream movies for a single dollar. HD film sell-back remained $18.
2016: VidAngel's legal troubles emerge
May 2016: Legal questions
VidAngel offered responses to frequently asked questions in a blog post, asserting that its service was indeed legal. The company explained it offered "a family-friendly alternative to traditional movie viewing by providing a service expressly authorized by the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005" and emphasized that it "provides a filtering tool used at your direction" rather than "selling edited copies of movies" or "deciding what content to screen." VidAngel also stated that third parties, including Roku, Google Play, Amazon and Apple, agreed it was acting lawfully.
June 2016: Hollywood lawsuit
Disney, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 20th Century Fox Film Corporation and Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC filed a lawsuit against VidAngel, claiming the company “blatantly violates the Copyright Act” by circumventing “technological protection measures on DVDs and Blu-ray discs” to create unauthorized streaming copies of movies and television shows. The plaintiffs also took issue with VidAngel offering content before other streaming platforms like Netflix had the rights to it.
Harmon immediately responded to the complaint in a blog post, informing customers that the company had hired “great Hollywood attorneys” and that VidAngel remained “as confident now as we were when we launched that filtering a DVD or Blu-ray you own on your favorite devices is your right.”
Later, the company offered a more detailed rebuttal on its blog, arguing that the streaming content VidAngel distributed was lawfully purchased because the company bought a DVD or Blu-ray disc copy for each purchase of a streaming title. It also contended that the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 protected VidAngel’s right to filter movies customers already owned.
July 2016: VidAngel antitrust countersuit
VidAngel countersued Disney, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Lucasfilm with an antitrust lawsuit, stating that the Hollywood studios had “interfered with VidAngel’s attempts to partner with streaming content providers to filter movies” and “sought to improperly expand their copyright monopoly.”
August 2016: Legal reinforcement and a celebrity endorsement
VidAngel announced in a press release that “legendary Hollywood intellectual property attorney” and “guardian of the Oscars for decades” David W. Quinto had joined the company as its general counsel in order to “spearhead its defense of a lawsuit brought by four major Hollywood studios.”
That same month, VidAngel launched the first of several ads featuring Matt Meese of BYU TV’s “Studio C.” Meese welcomed viewers to VidAngel’s “movie heaven” and later explained how the filtering service doesn’t necessarily ruin art and isn’t censorship. He also argued that VidAngel was completely legal and that shuttering the business would bring an end to filtering altogether.
September 2016: Grassroots support
Nearly two dozen leaders of non-profit organizations, led by the Parents Television Council, publicly expressed their approval of VidAngel’s mission, according to a VidAngel press release. Many also submitted declarations to the court on behalf of the company, explaining how they believed VidAngel’s filtering service was in the public interest. Furthermore, nearly 30,000 donors also pledged their support by contributing to VidAngel’s legal defense fund, the company stated.
December 2016: Videos taken down; VidAngel Studios launches
A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against VidAngel, meaning that while the case was in court, VidAngel must take down all content produced by the studios suing them. The company requested a stay of the preliminary injunction, saying that removing these videos would completely ruin the app and vowing to take the case “all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.”
With VidAngel’s request for a stay denied, it finally stated its intentions to temporarily stop streaming the films. But Harmon said they would appeal the case, requesting an emergency stay from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the midst of these legal battles, VidAngel also announced it would begin producing its own family-friendly original content under a venture called VidAngel Studios.
2017: Legal battles continue as VidAngel diversifies
January 2017: VidAngel fined
VidAngel’s emergency stay from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was denied, and shortly thereafter, the company was found guilty of contempt of court for not complying with the preliminary injunction and removing the videos it required in a timely manner. As a result, VidAngel was forced to pay Disney, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm more than $10,200 in fines.
March 2017: ‘Tim Timmerman’ hits theaters
“Tim Timmerman, Hope of America,” a film backed (but not produced) by VidAngel Studios, hit theaters in Utah as the studio’s first theatrical release. The quirky comedy was rated PG-13, but VidAngel insisted it would “likely be one of the cleanest PG-13s you’ve ever seen.”
May 2017: Dry Bar Comedy launches
VidAngel announced the release of an original clean stand-up comedy specials with a project called Dry Bar Comedy. The comedy sets were filmed in a VidAngel-owned Provo venue with the same name that the company founded to “be a space for viewers to enjoy stand-up comedy without all the harsh and sometimes negative jokes that are typical of most stand-up specials.”
June 2017: New filtering service; VidAngel back in court and Sen. Hatch weighs in
“VidAngel is back,” the company announced on a Facebook livestream introducing users and investors to a new version of the filtering service. The new service allowed customers to log in to their accounts with other streaming platforms (although VidAngel didn’t officially partner with these third parties) and use filtering options provided by VidAngel. While this updated interface worked for Netflix, Amazon and HBO content, customers still couldn’t stream titles owned by the studios suing the company.
That same month, the company presented oral arguments on the appeal of the December court injunction in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch weighed in on the controversy surrounding VidAngel, saying he wanted to “find a way for everyone to win on this issue” and that he believed “families should have the choice to screen out profanity, violence and other objectionable content.”
July 2017: New legal questions
With the new service up and running, VidAngel attorneys asked for clarification of the December court injunction to see if the new filtering model now met legal standards.
August 2017: Appeal denied
A U.S. District Court rejected VidAngel's motion for clarification on whether its new filtering model exempted them from the December court injunction. Moreover, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied VidAngel's appeal of the injunction. Harmon responded in a press release, stating that the denied appeal "has absolutely no impact on VidAngel's current service, we remain open for business."
September 2017: New lawsuit
October 2017: Bankruptcy
VidAngel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to pause the ongoing lawsuit with the California studios and create space to focus on the Utah lawsuit seeking a determination on the legality of its new platform. In the wake of this decision, the company announced that “VidAngel is not going away” and reminded customers (over 100,000 of whom were still owed money) that “we have millions of dollars in the bank, and are now generating millions in revenue.”
2018: VidAngel faces more legal blows
August 2018: Utah lawsuit dropped and another loss in the 9th Circuit
VidAngel’s lawsuit filed in Utah seeking a judgement on the legality of its updated streaming service was dismissed.
The company also lost another appeal in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court. This loss affirmed an earlier ruling denying VidAngel’s antitrust claims that some movie studios were acting in an anticompetitive manner, allegedly costing the company potential deals with YouTube and Google Play.
September 2018: Family Movie Act Clarification Act of 2018
Utah Rep. Mia Love proposed the Family Movie Act Clarification Act of 2018 (HR6816), a bill that would update the 2005 Family Movie Act. Conservative watchdog groups, like the Parents Television Council, hoped the bill would give filtering services like VidAngel more power to edit and filter films without infringing on copyrights or trademarks. The bill died in committee.
November 2018: Disney lawsuit resumes
Disney motioned to resume the California lawsuit that was put on hold in October 2017 after VidAngel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A Utah judge lifted the stay, resuming the lawsuit, according to a blog post from VidAngel.
2019: VidAngel ruled liable for copyright infringement, faces millions in damages
January 2019: Request to revise 2016 injunction
VidAngel requested a modification to the original 2016 injunction that would allow the company to filter plaintiff studios' content from licensed streaming services under the new VidAngel model.
March 2019: VidAngel found liable for copyright infringement
U.S. District Court judge André Birotte Jr. ruled in favor of Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., finding VidAngel liable for copyright infringement.
“VidAngel cannot avoid the questions of law that this court and the 9th Circuit resolved against it. Thus, plaintiffs are entitled to summary adjudication that VidAngel is liable for copyright infringement and for violating the (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)," Birotte wrote.
Harmon said the company would appeal the decision in a blog post.
April 2019: "The Chosen" series trailer and first episode released12 comments on this story
VidAngel announced the release of the official trailer and initial episode of its original scripted series, “The Chosen,” a multi-season TV show depicting the life of Jesus. A press release stated the series was “the #1 crowdfunded media project in history, raising over $10 million from more than 16,000 investors.” VidAngel used an unusual equity crowdfunding model, offering investors one share for every dollar they contributed.
June 2019: Damages trial begins
VidAngel appeared in California court for a jury trial meant to determine the severity of copyright infringement committed by the company. The jury awarded Disney and other Hollywood movie studio plaintiffs $62.4 million in damages.