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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, File

VidAngel goes on offense in Utah following setbacks in California courts

By Art Raymond | Posted - Sep. 6, 2017 at 7:03 p.m.

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PROVO — After suffering a series of legal setbacks in California courts, Provo-based VidAngel has filed a federal complaint in Utah against 12 movie studios and entertainment companies, hoping a jury of Beehive State residents will settle long-running disputes over the legality of the company's video filtering service.

VidAngel claims in its filing in Utah's U.S. District Court that the 2005 Family Home Movie Act allows for how the company filters and streams content to its customers.

The company outlines three different techniques it has employed for doing this, including its original technique of "ripping" or decrypting content from DVDs and Blue Ray discs purchased from content owners, a new service that began in June of this year wherein the company offers filtering of movies from licensed streaming services, plus an additional method that the company says can accomplish filtering from a disc-based movie without decryption.

The original technique, referred to as the "2015-16 service" by the company in its Utah filing, was enjoined by a federal court in California last December on behalf of four movie studio plaintiffs, including Disney, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and LucasFilm. VidAngel pursued an appeal of that injunction from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which was rejected in a ruling by a three judge panel in late August.

After launching a new, streaming service-based filtering approach in June, the company filed a motion to clarify the injunction order, claiming the new technique was not in violation of the original injunction. U.S. District Judge André Birotte, Jr. wrote, in his denial of the motion, that "VidAngel’s request for a declaration that their new service doesn’t violate the court’s order is essentially an action for a declaratory judgment and is not appropriate for resolution in a motion to clarify."


In the current dispute, VidAngel cites an email from one of the defendants, Toronto-based Sullivan Entertainment Group, sent last month, that accuses the company of "illegally streaming Sullivan Content" and demanding that VidAngel "cease and desist in any future attempt to stream our content." VidAngel goes on to state that, like Sullivan, "the remaining defendants have taken the position that VidAngel’s streaming of their copyrighted works is unlawful."

In response to a request from the Deseret News for comment, VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon wrote that "VidAngel has a responsibility to its investors to defend its interests when presented with legal challenges, and this filing represents such an action.”

A representative from the plaintiffs' group that was granted the injunction by a California U.S. District Court, and who have affiliates among the defendants in the Utah filing, characterized the VidAngel action as a legal rehash. "VidAngel is attempting to relitigate issues it has decisively lost. We will respond appropriately in court to VidAngel's litigation tactics," the group said in a statement.

VidAngel has requested a jury trial in the matter and is seeking declaratory relief on each of its filtering/streaming techniques.

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