VidAngel continues fight for movie filtering 04

Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel as well as the legal team for the company announces that the company makes its return among legal battles Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Provo. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

A Utah federal judge dismissed a lawsuit between a Provo movie filtering service and several Hollywood studios on Monday, leaving the option open for the filtering service to bring the same claims to California federal courts.

VidAngel executives filed to dismiss the lawsuit against Sullivan Entertainment, Marvel, Fox Broadcasting Co., MGM, Castle Rock, New Line Productions and other studios in the U.S. District Court for Utah.

Officials at VidAngel hoped the lawsuit would declare VidAngel’s past and present services as legal and lawful under copyright law and the Family Movie Act of 2005.

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer dismissed the lawsuit, saying the Utah court lacks personal jurisdiction over the issue stated in the suit, court documents state.

“Judge Nuffer gave us two options — transfer our case to California or dismiss the declaratory relief case for VidAngel’s new technology that works with Netflix and Amazon Prime, while preserving our right to bring it again in a different court,” wrote VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon in a prepared statement.

The company asked the judge to drop the lawsuit on Friday, Aug. 3, stating VidAngel did not have the funds to transfer the litigation, according to court documents.

“Aside from reducing our legal costs, this has no impact on our current business. Thus, we’ve decided not to transfer to California,” Harmon wrote in the statement.

VidAngel began as a movie filtering service in October 2013 but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection nearly four years later.

In 2015, the company spent more than $2 million buying DVDs and Blu-ray Discs of motion pictures. Users could purchase a movie through VidAngel and apply filters to a digital copy of the film for violence, sex, profanity and other content that could be deemed objectionable. The user would then “return” the movie and VidAngel would charge the user a few dollars for the movie use.

“Removal of mature content has such a powerful transformative effect that only then will certain audiences watch those movies,” VidAngel executives wrote in the dismissed lawsuit. “Religious convictions and parental views about what is appropriate for children are real and powerful and in fact matter more to VidAngel’s customers than anything else about a particular title.”

The filtering service was sued in 2016 by Warner Bros., Disney, LucasFilm and Twentieth Century Fox for reportedly violating copyrights. The studios have claimed, in part, that VidAngel’s digital copies of the film weren’t authorized, which is a required part of the Family Movie Act.

In return, VidAngel sued various Hollywood studios to establish the filtering service as lawful. Several California courts have already ruled against the Provo-based company.

VidAngel updated its services in 2017 to be compatible with services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video to filter streaming movies and television series.

“Our customers can filter movies on Amazon, Netflix, and HBO on Amazon, and we still have millions in the bank to fight this all the way,” Harmon said in an October 2017 statement.

Ashley Stilson covers crime, courts and breaking news for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2556 or astilson@heraldextra.com.

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