Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The CleanFlicks Decision

Leaving the legal mumbo-jumbo out, here is Reason's summary of Monday's decision:
CleanFlicks is one of several companies that clean up sex and violence and foul language in movies and then sell the bowdlerized versions (which are clearly labeled as such) to their mostly religious customers. Among the sanitizers' most widely reported edits was the redaction of Winslet's breasts from the arty scenes in James Cameron's Titanic.

Such simple acts of repurposing content ran afoul of, among others, the Directors Guild of America, which claimed that such actions infringed on moviemakers' copyright protections. Now, according to an account at E! Online, "a federal judge in Denver has ordered several companies to cease and desist from editing out movie content they find offensive."
I happen to own a cleaned-up copy of Titanic, given to me by one of my sons. At the time he was 16, my younger son was 12, and our daughther was 5. I wanted to watch the movie with our older boys and not have to subject them to that scene. (Believe me, the movie is just fine without it.) In our family, we believe it is spiritually very unhealthy to view such material. If that makes us puritanical in some people's eyes, so be it.

This is a case in which the self-importance and arrogance of the Hollywood entertainment machine won. Here's part of a statement about the case by Michael Apted, president of the Directors' Guild of America:

"Directors put their skill, craft and often years of hard work into the creation of a film," added Apted, whose own repertoire includes the 1999 James Bond adventure The World Is Not Enough and Gorillas in the Mist. "These films carry our name and reflect our reputations. So we have great passion about protecting our work...against unauthorized editing."
(Pause to roll eyes.)

Oh, please. This ruling, if upheld, only forestalls the inevitable. If there is a market for movies without the gratuitously-inserted sex or nude scene (and please do not tell me that such scenes are not inserted, or that artistic integrity requires them), people will find a way to serve that market. Maybe you'll be able to purchase a DVD and a machine that will alow you to edit offensive scenes on your own, in the privacy of your own home. (First Amendment libertines love that "privacy of your own home" stuff.)

Matter of fact, a Salt Lake City-based company called ClearPlay already sells "computer software and modified DVD players that allow viewers to skip over any materials they deem objectionable." Will that technology be the next Target of Apted and company?

Make a statement. Contact ClearPlay and buy one of their special DVD players.

And no, I don't have any connection to ClearPlay. I just think what they do is cool.


Blogger Harold C. Hutchison said...

As an aspiring novelist/screenwriter, I am very biased on this issue. So, with the above disclosure in mind, I have to say that the "CleanFlicks" approach is one that is very close to the line.

I think that the only thing that makes their approach close to being acceptable was the fact that they included the original DVD with the edited version.

When I bought Season One of South Park  or the movie Team America on DVD, nobody held a gun to my head and made me do it. I bought them because I like what Trey Parker and Matt Stone produce. It's crude, yes, but also absolutely hilarious. 

Posted by Harold C. Hutchison

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 9:33:00 AM  
Blogger SkyePuppy said...

I have to say I'm disappointed by the decision. I've wanted to buy My Cousin Vinny  in the cleaned-up version. I just can't take that many swear words, but the movie is hysterical.

My only other option is to tape it from broadcast TV, because they dub it with acceptable words.

Legal Question: Why is it OK for the broadcast networks to clean up a file, which people can copy to watch again, but it's not OK for CleanFlicks to do the same thing? 

Posted by SkyePuppy

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Harold C. Hutchison said...


The key word from Mr. Apted is "unauthorized". The networks pay to air an edited version of the movie - in other words, they are authorized by the folks who own that movie to make changes.

CleanFlicks didn't ask permission. 

Posted by Harold C. Hutchison

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger The Hedgehog said...

Harold's right. The key Hollywood unions, like the Directors' Guild, have contracts with the TV networks and the airlines, allowing the edited broadcast of their movies. It seems that their "passion" about protecting their work wanes when money is offered to them.

But the broadcast networks and the airlines are using the copyrighted works in a different way than CleanFlicks is. Television sells advertising that rins with the movie broadcasts, and a large chunk of those advertising revenues go to the copyright owners, the directors, the actors, etc. Similarly, the airlines pay a license fee.

CleanFlicks, however, buys the videos and thus owns them. If you own a copyrighted work, you can do whatever you want to it. The question the court addressed in this case is, can you then rent the work to others for their viewing? The court here said no. 

Posted by The Hedgehog

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger SkyePuppy said...

Got it. Thanks.

Still, it's a bummer, because I really would like to own a copy of Vinny without all the bad words. 

Posted by SkyePuppy

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gilbert_Sundevil said...

Also posted this on Harold's blog:

Interesting ruling. I went to the Colorado District Court Website to find the opinion, but it isn't posted yet.

I have a problem with the decision, which may come from my lack of understanding copywrite law. Maybe your or some of your readers can enlighten me.

Once I purchase something from an artist/author, why does it matter what I do with it? For example, if I buy a book from Amazon that I have read and no longer need, can I use it to level an uneven desk? Can I use an old CD as a coaster? Can I use a pair of scissors to cut up the CD and then re-sell it as a coaster?

I'm a member (they charge an annual fee) of one of the companies that was named in the suit. They aren't making extra copies of these movies. All of the movies that I rented had both an edited version and the original DVD in the case.

The cry about not wanting their work changed seems a little bit disingenuous. Movies are edited all the time for length, tv, mpaa standards.

Lastly, I'm baffled as to why they would bring the suit in the first place. I rent/purchase movies in edited format that I wouldn't otherwise. Assuming the decision stands up to appeal, these producers/directors/studios are losing my entertainment dollar. And I'm not alone. These companies that edit movies sprouted up because the market saw a need and filled it. There are many, many Christian families that would like to enjoy a good movie without having to bring all the extra garbage into their home. They are effectively taking a huge segment of customers and telling them that they don't want their business. 

Posted by Gilbert_Sundevil

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 1:36:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Prescott said...

CleanFlicks, however, buys the videos and thus owns them. If you own a copyrighted work, you can do whatever you want to it.

Slight limitation here: you may not redistribute the altered work without the permission of the copyright holder. 

Posted by Ken Prescott

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 4:10:00 PM  
Blogger The Hedgehog said...

Ken: Right. The issue here was whether renting the copyrighted work after altering it was a violation. But if you want to buy a video and alter it yourself, for your own use, that's your own business. 

Posted by The Hedgehog

Thursday, July 13, 2006 7:07:00 AM  
Blogger jan@theviewfromher said...

I suppose if someone were extremely offended by much of the terrible violence in the Bible, it would be acceptable to simply delete it. Yes, you could certainly tear the offending pages out of your own Bible which you've paid for. But I imagine we would all cry foul if someone were to delete the offending passages, then reprint the Bible without them and offer the "sanitized" version for sale.
By the way, there is a clean, unedited version of Titanic already available. It's called "A Night to Remember."  

Posted by jan

Thursday, July 13, 2006 12:05:00 PM  

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