Monday, July 10, 2006

Death-Knell for "Sanitized" DVDs

A ruling was handed down in Hollywood's case against companies that release "censored" versions of Hollywood films. From Reuters:

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch came down squarely on the side of the Directors Guild of America and the major studios in his ruling that the companies must immediately cease all production, sale and rentals of edited videos. The summary judgment issued Thursday requires the companies -- Utah-based CleanFlicks, CleanFilms and Play It Clean Video, Arizona-based Family Flix USA and the separate entity CleanFlicks of Colorado -- to turn over all existing copies of their edited movies to lawyers for the studios for destruction within five days of the ruling.

Utah's CleanFlicks, which describes itself as the largest distributor of edited movies, through online sales and rentals and sales to video stores in Utah, Arizona and other states in the region, said it would continue its fight against the guild and the studios. CleanFlicks and the others make copies of official DVD releases and then edit them for sex, nudity, violence and profanity.

The companies purchase a copy of the original DVD for every film that they then edit (to remove "offensive" material) and sell, and anyone buying the film from a company like CleanFlicks would get both the original DVD and the censored version. The idea was that this shielded them from copyright infringement and piracy laws because the original copyright holder was getting their normal share. (Presumably, they argued that the original copyright holder was getting more as a result of their business, since some people who bought a copy of the "CleanFlicks" version, and thus also the original version, would not have bought the original version otherwise.)

The judge came down hard on these companies, ruling that "(t)he right to control the content of the copyrighted work ... is the essence of the law of copyright."

Iterestingly, this seems clearly not to be a case of Hollywood trying to increase profits; based on the business plan of bundling the edited copy with a original, their DVD sales would necessarily not fall. (It's possible that theater sales might drop because people wait for the "clean" DVD.) Rather, in this case, the Directors Guild of America was out to protect the integrity of their work, not their profits. The president of the DGA is quoted as saying:
As creators of films, we oppose giving anyone the ability to alter in any way they choose, for any purpose, and for profit, the content of a film that we have made, often after many years of work. Directors put their skill, craft and often years of hard work into the creation of a film. These films carry our name and reflect on our reputations. No matter how many disclaimers are put on the film, it still carries the director’s name. So we have great passion about protecting our work, which is our signature and brand identification, against unauthorized editing.
Since the ruling does not seem to be posted on the US District Court website, here is another quotation from the ruling cited in the Reuters article:
Whether these films should be edited in a manner that would make them acceptable to more of the public playing on a DVD in a home environment is more than merely a matter of marketing; it is a question of what audience the copyright owner wants to reach. This court is not free to determine the social value of copyrighted works. What is protected are the creator's rights to protect its creation in the form in which it was created.


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