In 2005, to more clearly define the rights of parents to use filtering technology on limited portions of audiovisual content such as motion pictures in a private household, an exemption was placed in the law. The filtering, or as the law puts it, “making imperceptible”, must be done at the direction of a member of the private household. Intellectual property comes into play as the law stipulates that the content must be from an authorized copy. The law is called the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, or more simply, the Family Movie Act (FMA). The exemption is in Section 202 of that law.
The concept is an admirable one, filtering out the naughty and violent stuff. This gives parents a useful tool to bridge the gaping divide between what the film industry offers and what is considered appropriate content for the home. It's all in the implementation though and that's where we're hitting some pesky snags.
The concept of intellectual property goes back to the 17th century in England when patents (and later trademarks and copyrights) were codified to give temporary legal monopolies on created works to their creators. This was largely driven by an economic fear that the printing press had made the value of copies so negligible that there was insufficient economic incentive for writers to write. These practices remain central to strong property laws in Western countries today for largely the same reason, and it is likely that strong intellectual property protections contribute to economic growth. And this is why copyright protections are becoming stronger and fiercer in the United States.
It has been argued, on the other hand, that these protections have outgrown the scope of their usefulness. Lawrence Lessig, for example, says that while bootlegging should be illegal, “remix” (where a work is substantially altered to produce something entirely new) should fall under those protections – since no idea occurs in a vacuum. And while some provisions have been made to the law to allow for protections of substantially-altered work, filtering does not fall into this category. This is why the FMA was brought into being. But just how far does the scope of FMA protection reach?
Why All The Hubbub?
Even some of the best blockbuster movies and made for television content has material and scenes many parents find offensive and objectionable. Quite simply, parents want to control what is watched privately at home. Nothing wrong with that. Right? Well, not so fast, it seems that there's a service called VidAngel conducting an end run around the intellectual property issue to provide parents the option of filtering out the questionable content. VidAngel offers the content and a menu to choose from many filters to tailor the content to parents’ satisfaction. The big Hollywood studios are not happy with this and have filed suit calling what is occurring essentially the operation of an unlicensed video-on-demand streaming service.
The film industry failed to stop the Family Movie Act in Congress, so it's on to the courts and the fight is an aggressive one. It's interesting to note though that in a way, the film industry may actually be fighting a large segment of the very audience that buys its product.
VidAngel vs the Law:
As you review the FMA law, the VidAngel service runs afoul in a couple places like authorized copy and the filtering must be done by a member of the private household. VidAngel's service provides the content and options to filter. Sounds to us like you also have the option NOT to filter which creates a problem with the whole concept of having an authorized copy of what is considered intellectual property. VidAngel calls it 'associated media' as part of its end run around copyright laws. It’s possible the judge may have an issue with VidAngel's defense.
This ought to be an interesting fight. On the one hand, you have what some consider a valued service for those who want to enjoy a clean movie experience. On the other, is what the film industry considers illegal ripping of their intellectual content and streaming it without a license. Fight's on!