So for my Intro to News Media course at BYU I was required to write a 500 word editorial on a topic of my choosing. I struggled quite a bit with this assignment. As it turns out writing about complex topics like copyright law, especially cases that are unresolved can be pretty difficult when you have so little space. Regardless I have some thoughts on a claim that VidAngel is under Fair Use that are here if you want to read about them.
We all experience it from time to time. Friends or family completely misusing a word or phrase. It could as simple as the insistence of most adults under the age of twenty-five of adding literally to as many sentences as they can. It could also have lasting impacts on how we define Fair Use in copyright law for generations to come. At least it could if you’re friends with VidAngel.
For those unaware, VidAngel is a streaming service that lets you take all the objectionable content out of movies. At least they were until an injunction placed on them forced them to take down all the movies they were streaming to customers without licenses. VidAngel claims that their product is under fair use in their YouTube video titled, “Is VidAngel legal?”. (Fair use is mentioned around the 3:50 mark) They claim that since their work is “transformative” and still makes Hollywood studios money that they’re exempt from the copyright infringement claims Hollywood has leveled towards them. Fair Use allows for people or a company in VidAngels case to use copyrighted material verbatim without permission provided that they meet criteria. Criteria that is unfortunately not clearly defined and done on a case by case basis. These claims are not as solid as VidAngel might think.
It’s true to the majority of people that VidAngel filtering is transformative. We understand the word to mean something is simply different, and there isn’t any real doubt that VidAngel movies are different than their theatrical counterparts. However transformative doesn’t mean the same thing in copyright law as it does for the average person. The copyright.gov page describes transformative as, “…those that add something new, with a further purpose of different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work.” VidAngel doesn’t add anything new to the films it filters, they only remove pieces from the original, work and they are certainly intended to act as a substitute for the original versions.
VidAngel makes the studios money though right? They buy all those discs from them. Yes that is true that VidAngel does buy a very large number of discs which make Hollywood some money. That isn’t the full story though. VidAngel also releases some movies on their site before those movies are available on sites like Netflix or Amazon and this takes value away from Hollywood when they negotiate deals with those big streaming sites. Those deals are worth tens of millions of dollars, a lot of money to lose.
Fair Use is an extremely important part of content creation, without it a lot of satire, parody, education and criticism of of our world wouldn’t be possible. Filtering also has a right to exist, but filtering films is not Fair Use.I’m not saying VidAngel is illegal. Just that if VidAngel wishes to fight Hollywood for their right to do their work, they shouldn’t rely on Fair Use claims in any way shape or form, it’s not a winning strategy.
Here is the VidAngel video I mentioned in my editorial, I should note that this is definitely not the last time I’ll be talking about VidAngel. There are a number of videos they’ve put out and I have thoughts on nearly all of them.