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Studios Countersue Movie Maskers

16 Dec, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Eight studios have joined the fray in a lawsuit the operator of a small video masking and rental company filed seeking a judicial declaration that his activities are legal.

In a countersuit filed in federal court in Denver, MGM, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Disney, DreamWorks, Paramount and Universal are seeking a court order putting the masking services out of business.

In the underlying case, Clean Flicks of Colorado LLC and Boise, Idaho attorney Robert Huntsman, who has a patent pending on movie editing technology, are asked a federal judge to determine that they have a First Amendment right to edit the videos for private use.

"The interest of these plaintiffs is to remove the 'rough edges' -– the objectionable content -- only for the family viewing audience. Their personal sensitivities don't allow them to view the unaltered work, but they appreciate the story line or historical context, and want to be able to view the movie, without having to listen to the 'F' word," Pete Webb, a spokesman for the video masking plaintiffs, said when the case was filed.

Huntsman's case seeks a court order establishing that their editing practices are protected under federal copyright law. It names 16 renowned directors, including Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman, Steven Soderbergh, John Landis and Martin Scorsese.

It asks the court to find the editing practices legal and is aimed at heading off a lawsuit expected to be filed soon by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) on behalf of many of the same directors challenging the rights of video rental stores to edit videos for family consumption.

But the studios named a handful of other companies in a response filed Friday and seeking to have all such services declared in violation of copyright laws.

Companies the studios named are Trilogy Studios, CleanFlicks, My CleanFlicks, Family Shield Technologies, Clearplay, Inc., Clean Cut Cinemas, Family Safe Media, Editmymovies, Family Flix USA and Play It Clean Video.

The companies specialize in renting videos for "family viewing," with objectionable language or graphic scenes removed.

Clean Flicks has stores in Colorado, Utah and Idaho and has been operating for more than a year, providing edited videos to its member customers. The company requires monthly or annual club membership fees, which give customers access to the library of edited movies. Clean Flicks also carries a section of unedited family and children's videos.

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