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       Monday, July 10, 2006

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Fast-Forward Considered Harmful; Hollywood Stifles Viewer Choice

You are not allowed to choose what you will and won't watch in a movie. So says Hollywood and the courts.
A federal judge in Colorado has handed the entertainment industry a big win in its protracted legal battle against a handful of small companies that offer sanitized versions of theatrical releases on DVD.

The case encompasses two of Hollywood's biggest headaches these days: the culture wars and the disruptive influence of digital technologies.

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.

Yes, I know you could spend the time yourself recording the DVD to video tape and try to hit pause/play at just the right times (though the point was not to have to view the objectionable material, even once). Yes, I know you could possibly load up the movie on your computer and, with some expensive DVD editing software cuts out all the parts you want, down to the words. Yes, I know you could spend all that time and/or money doing that yourself.

Or you could pay someone else to. Well, not according to the courts. No, all the gratuitous sex and violence is, not just artistically, but legally required for the story to be told. And no, the studios don't lose a single penny, and yes you can view the original if you really want to.
The mainstreaming of sophisticated digital editing technologies has fueled the cottage industry of movie sanitizers. CleanFlicks and others purchase an official DVD copy of a film on DVD for each edited version of the title they produce through the use of editing systems and software. 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. Matsch disagreed.

"Their business is illegitimate," the judge wrote in his 16-page ruling. "The right to control the content of the copyrighted work ... is the essence of the law of copyright."

Careful now, because this statement makes it sound like I can't make my own, edited copy of a movie that I legitimately purchased. If I can't have someone else do it for me, can I legally do it myself? Even if, in both the court case any my hypothetical, an original copy of the movie was legally purchased and is available with the edited version? Don't I have a choice what part of a purchased movie I choose to see? This ruling teeters on the edge of making me a law-breaker for essentially hitting the Fast Forward button on my remote.

This sort of mentality almost occurred with DVD hardware, in the ClearPlay situation. This is a device that allows you to play your DVD and it takes care of filtering it as you watch the movie. What parts to skip are download to the player, and you just hit play.
Early on, the legal sparring involved Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay, which offers video filtering software that allows for home viewing of cleaned-up versions of Hollywood titles.

ClearPlay offers software programs developed for specific titles that users can run on their computer or ClearPlay's proprietary DVD player along with an official copy of the DVD. With this technology, a nude shot of an actor can be altered to show a silhouette, or profanity can be bleeped out. Because ClearPlay's technology does not involve making an altered DVD copy, it has been shielded from the copyright infringement claims. The debate over movie content filtering activities made its way into Congress, which passed the 2005 Family Movie Act that protects ClearPlay and other software-based filtering companies. Matsch noted that Congress at that time had the opportunity to also carve out legal protections for CleanFlicks and its ilk, but chose not to.

The result is exactly the same as watching a pre-edited movie; you own the original, and you watch what you want to. It took an act of Congress to protect your right to skip parts of a movie via a hardware device. It looks like it'll take another one to protect your right to allow a 3rd party to edit it for you (or possibly to protect you from doing it yourself), even though the results of the two technologies result in exactly the same output. The fact that you can obtain a permanent copy of that output shouldn't matter and is a transparent fig leaf to hide behind.

Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.

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posted by Doug at 11:38 AM  


Swampy said...

Whine, whine, whine. If you don't want to see the naughty bits, put on a Veggie Tales tape!

12:54 PM  
joey said...

I believe it should be legal. I should be able to purchase an edited version from somewhere. Just like you can music. If I have to go through a third party so be it, as long as the orignal is included.

1:21 PM  
Mike Montana said...

Its perfectly legal to make editted versions of movies/songs. Since you dont "own" the content, you need permission to make a derivative work. ClearPlay etc simply refused to get that permission.

I agree with their business model: an alternative family-safe version of movies has a market. Consumers choose to rent the editted version. They're not FORCED, and they pay more for the editted rental. Its a consumer choice, which is a key fact.

This practice has been going on for years - the movies shown on television and airlines are all sanitized. Nobody complains. But, in this case, the Movie Studios have licensed (as in "paid") to make the alternate version.

I'm totally against someone else deciding what I can/cant see. I am also equally in favor of someone providing a santized version of stuff I dont WANT to see. I'm willing to pay a little more for the difference, and just as willing to not bother watching content that is excessively offensive. Thats my choice, and I'm not in favor of it becoming "your limitations".

Too bad that these companies couldnt establish a proper channel to provide these editted versions.

1:58 PM  
kruane said...

I think the courts are exactly correct in doing what they did...

I'd like to present this in a manner that relates to MY creative field. As an Exec Chef of a 4-star restaurant, I would absolutely, literally PHREAK OUT if some "third-party" (such as a Restaurant manager) changed MY creative presentations without my knowledge or permission. I offer the fruits of my labor to the effect I CHOOSE them to have, not what someone ELSE envisions them ! If this "third-party" has their own "vision" of what he/she thinks the public "wants", they are certainly welcome to try-out their OWN creations ! But UNTIL that time, hands-off MY creations !

Yes, the view can be held that the "public" WANT these "creations" modified. Well, too darn bad.....if my "creations" bother you so much....head on down to Micky D's and sample some of THEIRS !

And this philosophy is IDENTICAL to that of movie directors, producers, and studios....And I can SEE why they would feel that way !

KUDOS to the courts !

2:05 PM  
John A said...

As Mike Montana noted, you can (for now) still edit your own copy (making a "derived" work) - what you cannot do is sell it without permission, and possibly not even give copies away. No, not even if you include the original as well.

As much as I think MPAA and RIAA are anti-consumer, I have to admit they are [mostly] in the right here.

Not that I agree with them about crap like not allowing fast-forward, let be making your own backup copies or changing format to newer version (got a vinyl record and want to make a copy on CD or DVD? Why the heck not?). I am still amused that during the original anti-copy BetaMax case, Jack Valenti admitted he had (and used, as did his family) one of the VCR's he was trying to get banned.

2:19 PM  
Doug said...

So, I can't go into your restaurant and have a salad and request dressing on the side? I must have it the way you originally intended? Can I make any substitutions of side items?

That's all this is about. I paid for the movie. I should be able to watch it the way I want to. I like the 90 minutes of story line, acting and action. It's just the 1.5 minutes of stuff I'd rather not see that we're talking about. And ClearPlay doesn't remove everything. In "Saving Private Ryan", they leave in the battle and sniping scenes because the movie doesn't make sense without it. It the gratuitious stuff that's being objected to. Viewers have a right to fast forward, no?

2:28 PM  
kruane said...

"So, I can't go into your restaurant and have a salad and request dressing on the side? I must have it the way you originally intended? Can I make any substitutions of side items? "

Sure you can....but AGAIN, it would be under MY ultimate control ! If I choose not to offer certain Condiments, or "side dishes"...that is STILL entirely up to me !

Say you wanted Pork & Beans with your Filet Mignon....I would STILL refuse to offer it with that dish, even IF you requested it....It's just a No-Go Item with that type of meal....

Again....I retain ULTIMATE control of what is offered...(if only to preserve my own reputation as a Culinarian !)

These "third-party" editors REMOVE that control from the creative minds that produced the works described....and substitute their OWN "creative concepts" overlaying the original product !

2:35 PM  
kruane said...

Just a little food for thought :

Why do people think that THESE "third-party" editors should be any different from those performers who "remake" previously written material ? Should THEY not be forced to get permission to do so ?

How about those performers that modify the LYRICS of these "remade" songs ?

Adding profanity, perhaps ? Or OTHER offensive material ?

I think Johnny Cash would roll over in his GRAVE to hear some of his music now containing "Kill the Nig**r", or "Stab your wife" or "All gays should die"........

In editing, what is the difference between REMOVING content, EDITING content, or INSERTING content ?

It's all one & the same.....WRONG to do without the author's permission !

3:08 PM  

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