There was big news last week for those who value the rights of creative artists and those who believe that copyright holders should have the final say as to how their work should be viewed.
In a court order signed last Thursday in Denver, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch said that CleanFlicks - of American Fork, Utah - could no longer create edited versions of popular films by removing profanity, sex and violence.
The online DVD rental firm has been supplying consumers and video stores with sanitized versions of hit films with "no offensive content" since 2002 - including "Passion of the Christ," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the recent hits "Failure to Launch" and "Madea's Family Reunion."
The case began in 2002 when CleanFlicks petitioned the court requesting confirmation of what it believed was its right to market the altered videos based on its interpretation of the First Amendment. The Director's Guild of America (DGA) and sixteen of Hollywood's top directors then countersued and were soon joined in a separate suit by eight movie studios who claimed copyright infringement.
An article in today's Hollywood Reporter explains it well:
The official-release disc is included alongside the edited copy in every sale or rental transaction conducted. As such, the companies argued that they had the right on First Amendment and fair-use grounds to offer consumers the alternative of an edited version for private viewing, so long as they maintained that "one to one" ratio to ensure that copyright holders got their due from the transactions.
In his sixteen-page decision in this case, the federal judge disagreed.
He called the editing of films to remove objectionable content "an illegitimate business" and said that “what is protected [by copyright law] are the creator’s rights to protect its creation in the form in which it was created.”
He ruled that the studios sought to "stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies..." and that "there is a public interest in providing such protection."
And while The Family Movie Act of 2005 allows consumers to edit films to remove objectionable content in their own homes, the sale of edited movies is not authorized by that law, according to Matsch's decision.
The judge's ruling affects not only CleanFlicks, but several other companies with similar business models - Play It Clean Video, CleanFilms, FamilyFlix USA and another company called CleanFlicks (an independent video store based in Colorado which apparently is no longer in business) - all of whom were ordered to stop "producing, manufacturing, creating" and renting edited movies. They were also instructed to hand over all inventory to the movie studios within five days.
He continued: "This is a typical case of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, Hollywood rewrote the ending. We're going to continue to fight."
(About 90 stores throughout the USA - half of them in Utah - buy edited versions of movies from CleanFlicks.)
For its part, the DGA says it has "been fighting this battle against the unauthorized editing of directors’ films since 2002 and are vindicated" by the court ruling.
In a prepared statement, DGA president Michael Apted added:
“It is particularly gratifying that the court recognized that this conduct is not permitted under copyright laws. Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third-party editor.”
The DGA also points out that "although this ruling is a victory for directors, studios and copyright holders, it is specific to these four companies who make fixed edited copies. Companies that use technology to electronically edit by skipping and muting portions of films, yet leave the original DVD intact are not covered by this ruling."
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We declined to participate, saying that we were opposed to the editing of films to remove content that some may find objectionable, that we respect the artistic vision of the creative team and that we believe that films should be seen as originally intended by their directors. We also questioned the legality of it all and said that we believed their business model violated copyright law.
They replied that they would cover all court costs, should we ever be brought into a legal proceeding having to do with our promotion of their service.
[Previously: The Slashin' of the Christ]
Rocky Mountain News: Judge: Sterile Movies Illegal
Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Film Sanitizers Ordered To Cut It
Guardian Unlimited: The Filth Stays In The Picture
Los Angeles Times: 'Sanitizers' of Home Video Lose in Court
Hollywood Reporter via Reuters via Cnet: Moviemakers Win Legal battle With Sanitizers
Rocky Mountain News: Judge: Sterile Movies Illegal