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Hollywood Punishes VidAngel For Cleaning Up Their Smut

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Let’s say you like movies, but you don’t like human heads exploding in slow motion, having f-bombs dropped all over your living room, or women who undress for money. To watch a feature film purged of such things in ages past, you had to buy a plane ticket for the in-flight movie, or wait for the network TV broadcast of whatever you wanted to see. More recently, those who claim possession of some external moral compass have resorted to explaining why allowing pornography to ride sidecar into one’s viewing habits is actually fine.

But for a while now, there has been another way. Movie filtering got its big break with “The Titanic,” which everyone wanted to see. However, some people preferred to see it as ***anic. An enterprising video store in Utah figured out that you could cut the exhibitionism and fornication, and (mirabile dictu!) still totally understand what happens.

DVDs edited for objectionable content proved to be in demand, and providers like CleanFlicks emerged to offer consumers de-smutted copies of popular movies. But it was ostensibly artistic genius that had chosen those obscenities, stripped those torsos, and mangled those victims. The market for edited DVDs did not survive legal challenges from Hollywood.

How the Market for Cleaner Movies Grew

One company had a different idea. Rather than producing edited DVDs, ClearPlay developed a DVD player with a filtering function that cleaned up movies as they ran. There was no copying, and no altered final version. Movie studios and directors didn’t like this any better.

But in 2005, Congress passed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (commonly called the Family Movie Act), which protected ClearPlay’s method of filtering movies live. This allowed ClearPlay to continue developing its filtering technology. ClearPlay was later able to make its filters available for streaming movies through Google Play.

Then there was another idea. The filtering service VidAngel sold customers DVDs for $20, cleaned them up, then bought them back from customers for $19. Viewers didn’t have to receive the physical DVD to watch the filtered version, because VidAngel would stream them the copy it had made (customers could also receive and keep the purchased hard copy if they chose).

The maneuver got noticed. Prosecutors argued that VidAngel was illegally hacking digital protections coded into the DVDs (in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act), making unauthorized copies of the DVDs, and streaming movies without a license. VidAngel’s invocation of the Family Movie Act was rejected on the grounds that its approach to filtering, which is of a different kind than ClearPlay’s, was not protected under the act.

Vidangel responded with two different plans. The first was to scrap the DVD-copying scheme, and to begin filtering movies directly from streaming services to which viewers already subscribed. That is, subscribers to Netflix or Amazon and VidAngel could use the VidAngel filter while streaming through the licensed provider.

VidAngel claims to have gotten this idea from none other than Disney during an earlier round of litigation. VidAngel’s other idea was to revisit the legal protectionist strategy. Last year, U.S. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) sponsored H.R.6816 (the Family Movie Act Clarification Act). VidAngel believed the bill’s revisions of the Family Movie Act would protect its method of filtering. But Love lost her seat in the fall elections, and the bill never got past introduction.

Not Out of the Woods

Movie filtering cannot be considered here to stay. VidAngel is infested with legal problems (more on that in a bit), and ClearPlay is not exactly in the clear.

Updates to Google Play in 2016 were incompatible with ClearPlay’s filtering system, and no one at Google prioritized the correction of that glitch. If you search for ClearPlay at Google Play, the first result and the only filtering app that comes up is VidAngel. ClearPlay still offers its Blueray/DVD player, but its only streaming option is through Amazon. ClearPlay’s selection is far more limited than VidAngel’s, and does not include any television programming.

On June 17, VidAngel was handed a $62 million bill, payable to Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros. District Judge and Obama appointee Andre Birotte ruled the filtering service to be in violation of the Family Movie Act. Damages awarded by the jury were about half of the maximum penalty, but 100 times the minimum.

VidAngel was specifically found liable for willful infringement of copyrights, which bumped up the prices considerably. While the company gets its appeal organized, the rest of us can keep busy puzzling over what Disney could possibly do with more control and money.

This might all be conservative paranoia and willful ignorance talking. The problem with that explanation is that third-party filtering services aren’t the only attempt to get viewers the clean movies they want. In 2017, Sony Pictures selected 24 of its own movies for cleanup. The idea was to reach the people for whom some content was simply off the table, no matter how much they wanted to watch what everyone else was watching.

Yet Sony’s plan was rapidly shut down by the Director’s Guild of America. The DGA was not willing to let anyone else murder its darling blood geysers, boobies, and blasphemies, even the studio that had given them a platform in the first place.

You Will Watch Profane Content or Nothing

It’s hard not to see things from the scolds’ perspective here. Why would directors be okay with their movies being edited for planes and TV, but not for private viewing at home?

People who go to the trouble and expense of seeking out clean movies are just plain not going to watch those movies in their original form. Denying access to clean movies shuts out a considerable audience and all its money, which doesn’t sound like a very Hollywood thing to do—unless Hollywood really is as committed to catechizing the public in immorality as the scolds have been scolding for decades.

Why would directors be okay with their movies being edited for planes and TV, but not for private viewing at home?

“Hollywood,” of course, is metonymy. Not everyone there has shown the same amount of energy for crushing VidAngel or filtering in general, which isn’t surprising. Imagine, for example, how authors might respond to a business that bought copies of their book, Sharpied out categorical words or topical selections, and resold the books at a markup. Some authors would be happy to be selling more books than they would have otherwise, and some would go full crybaby.

Numerous studios have stayed out of the movie filtering fight, as have the streaming services to which filterers (including smaller ones) have informally attached themselves. Disney, acting like a princess but looking like Ursula rising monstrous from the sea, has been the primary aggressor against VidAngel.

Poor little rich boys Fox and Warner Bros., not satisfied with the extra business VidAngel sent their way, also saw fit to get more money from the filtering service. And then there’s the Director’s Guild, where VidAngel and its fans see the real problem.

For all the plaintiffs’ plaints that this is only about the mechanics of filtering, and not filtering itself, Sony’s failed attempt to self-filter and Disney’s position (“ClearPlay is fine because it doesn’t work very well”) make it look like the godfathers aren’t going to let any of us out of here without making us watch them take off a girl’s shirt.

Why Be in the Woods At All?

The question is, how much do we need to see “The Godfather”? Is it culturally necessary? Might we even have a right to it? VidAngel and Family Movie Act proponents do, in fact, argue that the public has a right to private filtering. But a right that exists because 24 years ago we passed a law that invented it might not be the rightfullest of rights.

The idea of a general right to watch movies is well downstream of any true right. Positing a right to watch filtered movies makes the American infatuation with legal rights look pretty silly up next to natural rights (if you even Enlightenment to begin with).

Disney might be a big jerk for being mean to VidAngel. But if they and their partners in litigation get their way under the fine artfulness of jurisprudence, the despised prudes will be left with the advice of some blogger: if you don’t like it, just go away.

The Smut Is Only Getting Smuttier

Joshua Gibbs writes at the Circe Institute, “The merciless demand for realism which has arisen since the abandonment of the Hays Code in 1968 has polluted American art beyond measure. Gone is subtlety, gone is nuance, gone is dignity. Americans will underwrite any onscreen degradation provided it ‘actually happens in the real world,’ which is dangerous, because out in the real world, we manufacture new degradations at a breakneck speed.”

Contemporary TV and movies are expensively produced propaganda for a panoply of bad ideas.

Compare any post-Hays movie touching on a marital affair to director Stanley Donan’s 1958 “Indiscreet” for a demo of Gibbs’ argument. Donan’s film about indiscretion is so discreet, contemporary viewers might well miss what’s going on between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant.

The truth is that contemporary TV and movies are expensively produced propaganda for a panoply of bad ideas, with the allegedly artistic symbols and signposts in all the wrong places. It’s physical laziness that makes us want them, and intellectual and moral laziness that makes us tolerate them. But this isn’t news to anybody. We are willing to sin boldly on this one.

Lots people want VidAngel to somehow pull a win out of the appeals process, and for filtering movies and TV to be an easy and normal thing. They like vegging and laughing together on Friday night. Kids want to feel like they’re not backwards weirdos when their friends are talking about “Stranger Things.” Convincing one’s children that fun consists strictly of playing music together, having spelling bees, and holding family reader’s theaters is not as straightforward as the priestliest of the homeschooling castes makes it sound.

On the other hand, a lot of people who now function in conventional jobs and communities grew up weird, deprived of Freddy Krueger and “Dirty Dancing,” “The Blair Witch Project” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It taught them you have forgo certain things when they are plainly contrary to what is good.

It also taught that judgments of what is good are bigger than deciding whether “that stuff” (whatever it may be) is perceived to injure one’s private self. If that means that a lot of movies and TV are among the things from which people of integrity just depart, it won’t be the first time, and it must not be the last.

Rebekah Curtis is a housewife with a writing and indexing hobby. She has written for Babble, Touchstone, Modern Reformation (forthcoming), and is co-author of LadyLike, a collection of essays from Concordia Publishing House.





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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !