PROVO — Kristi Merrill is a big fan of the Provo-based video filtering service VidAngel.
Or at least she was until she heard that the way the company was doing its filtering was under legal scrutiny.
“I just assumed that it was legal, and I was kind of upset that maybe as a consumer that I was buying into that,” Merrill said. “As a company that was making the movies family friendly, it was easy to think they were playing by the rules.”
To be clear, the legal questions raised about VidAngel’s filtering technique — brought by a group of four heavy-hitting Hollywood movie studio plaintiffs that include Disney, Lucasfilm (a subsidiary of Disney), 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. — have yet to be resolved.
Last December, a federal court in California issued a preliminary injunction that halted VidAngel’s filtering service, finding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their claims and to halt the prospect that the studios were also suffering irreparable harm.
VidAngel sought to challenge and overturn that ruling and presented arguments on its position before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in early June. That hearing was notable both for the numerous challenges posed by Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz to VidAngel attorney Peter Stris during his oral argument, and for an exchange captured by a hot-mic on the judge’s bench before the proceeding began.
Before the final hearing on their calendar that day, Judge Carlos T. Bea was heard whispering to Hurwitz, “I think this one’s a lot easier,” to which Hurwitz replies, “I do, too.” The court has yet to submit a ruling on the matter.
Arguments being posed by both sides delve deep into the minutiae of the Copyright Act of 1976, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and a legislative carve-out sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — the 2005 Family Entertainment and Copyright Act that specifically addressed video filtering services, and allowed for it, albeit in a very narrowly defined manner.
However, at the heart of the matter is the studios’ contention that VidAngel is infringing on their copyrights by illegally accessing, editing and distributing their property and VidAngel’s rebuttal that the company is functioning in accordance with…