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Federal Court Tells Video Editors to Stop Altering Movies

10 Jul, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

A federal court ordered four companies that offer edited versions of movies on video formats to stop and turn those copies over to the studios for destruction. In the 16-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch called their business model “illegitimate.”

The four companies — Cleanflicks, Family Flix, Clean Films and Play It Clean Video — also are barred from “producing, manufacturing, creating, designing, selling, renting (in any format, including VHS and/or DVD), advertising, marketing (including on television, in print media and on the Internet), offering for sale or rent, merchandising, distributing, providing, importing, promoting, displaying, and/or publicly performing unauthorized edited, or otherwise altered, copies of any motion picture” the studio copyrighted films, according to the order.

Web sites for Cleanflicks and Clean Films were still operational at press time, but the order gives them five business days to comply.

“I'm going to be meeting with our board and our attorneys later this evening to determine what our response will be,” Clean Films CEO Ken Roberts said. “We believe he didn't give enough weight to the fair use aspect.”

Spokespersons for the other three companies could not be immediately reached for comment. The line to Play It Clean Video yielded a disconnect recording.

The content side sought the ruling, “to stop … irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies,” Matsch wrote. “There is a public interest in providing such protection despite the injury the infringers may sustain. Their business is illegitimate.”

The dispute raging among the studios, Directors Guild of America and 11 movie “sanitizing” companies since 2002 has centered on whether services could offer films edited for content some viewers might find offensive, such as foul language, nudity or impious references to God.

The directors contend that the results violate their copyrights, while the sanitizers have argued that consumers have a right to do anything they please with legally purchased property. They contend their actions are legal because they buy as many copies as they edit and that the editing is fair use because it is criticism of how the films were made and the editing is “transformative.”

“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,” Matsch wrote. “It is undisputed that the edits are a small percentage of most of the films copied and the use is clearly for commercial gain. There is nothing transformative about the edited copies.”

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) was cautiously triumphant about the ruling.

“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,” DGA president and director Michael Apted said.

Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, won passage of the Family Movie Act last year. That effectively put another company, ClearPlay, in the clear because that company sells a proprietary player and filters that don't physically change the content on the DVD, although they allow viewers to skip past, mute or mask content.

The act established that skipping a movie's audio or video content in a private home does not violate copyright law and that the copyright owner retains exclusive rights.

“The DGA remains concerned about this exception to copyright protection,” according to its statement.

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