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Tech Company Fights for Parental Control of Video Entertainment

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“Watch movies and TV however the BLEEP you want.” That is the motto of a modern technological David taking on corporate Goliaths.

VidAngel Inc. offers filtering of certain stream-on-demand media, said CEO Neal Harmon. Consumers have the option of removing objectionable content while watching Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Amazon Channels, all from the comfort of their home. The technology can remove obscene language, nudity and violence.

By age 18, a youth has seen 16,000 murders on movies and TV, according to a 1998 study titled “Psychiatric Effects of Media Violence” by the American Psychological Association, as reported on a VidAngel promo video.

Parents don’t have to worry about covering their children’s eyes or covering their ears.

Consumers can filter the streaming videos through the VidAngel app on most devices, Harmon said.

Does that degree of parental control sound like a good idea? Some media giants do not think so.

VidAngel has been locked in a legal battle with Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm for more than a year. The fight is uphill at this point as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 24 denied the company’s appeal of a preliminary injunction that was granted by the Los Angeles District Court.

The company is asking the district court to operate its technology with those studios’ content, Harmon said. The studios had sued in 2016 saying VidAngel was violating copyright laws with streaming filtering and a now-defunct mail-order DVD service.

VidAngel conducts its business under the auspices of the 2005 Family Movie Act, according to its website. The act allows it to “empower” families to filter content using technology in their homes, the Provo, Utah-based company contends.

VidAngel is meeting a consumer demand, Harmon said. Before the lawsuit was filed, more than 1 million customers were using the service. Its new streaming business model, launched in June, is growing faster than its previous operation.

Harmon and three of his brothers started the company in 2013 when, as fathers, they wanted to watch TV and movies with their children but not expose them to adult content. Research showed 47 percent of Americans wanted filtering technology.

The legal battle, not the technology, has been the greatest challenge in fulfilling their vision, Harmon said.

“There are directors — powerful directors — in Hollywood who believe you need to watch the stuff they create exactly as they make it or not watch it at all,” he said. “We believe they should create it, but inside the home, we believe a family has the right to watch the content however they want. That’s our position. The industry is not fond of it.”

Sony Pictures Studios tried to launch its own rental filtering service several months ago — with airplane and TV cuts of its films — so people could watch clean versions at home and on a plane, Harmon said. The Directors Guild of America threatened to sue so the program was shut down.

“If a huge company like Sony is not able to get the directors and studios to play ball, how can a small company like VidAngel do it, Harmon said. That’s where court action comes in.

VIdAngel turned to crowdsourcing to raise legal defense funds, he said. There are 7,500 investors who bought shares.

The service is available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, for Android and Apple devices, and on web browsers for computers. Customers, who subscribe, for $7.99 per month, log in with the VidAngel app and use it to sign into their streaming account.

VidAngel produces some original content, including comedies and movies. The website is https://www.vidangel.com.

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Copyright 2017 The Tennessee Star

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