Ninth Circuit Clarifies Family Movie Act and DMCA in Relation to a Movie Filtering Service Permitting the Streaming of Films Without Nudity and Violence

Takeaway: The Ninth Circuit recently affirmed an injunction against VidAngel Inc., a movie filtering service that allows users to stream films without nudity and violence, in favor of Walt Disney Studios and other Hollywood studios.

VidAngel claimed that its services are protected under Family Movie Act (“FMA”), an obscure 2005 federal statute that was aimed to let people edit out dirty portions of authorized copies of movies without violating copyright law. VidAngel also claimed that it was protected by copyright’s fair use doctrine.

However, the Family Movie Act only exempts a party from liability for copyright infringement if it provides a filtered performance or transmission that was from an authorized copy of the motion picture. As for the law of fair use, it does not sanction broad-based space-shifting or format-shifting. The anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act covers technological protection measures that control access to, and use of, a copyrighted work.

Rightly so, the panel rejected both claims, upholding a ruling that VidAngel violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). The court’s decision seemed to echo the complaint’s rationale that allowing VidAngel to claim protection under these statues would lead to a “massive loophole in the DMCA and copyright protection” and “absurd results Congress could not have intended.”