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Video Maskers Sue DGA

29 Aug, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

The operator of a small video rental company specializing in renting videos for "family viewing," with objectionable language or graphic scenes removed, and an inventor of a video masking technology sued the Directors Guild of America (DGA) today in a preemptive strike.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colo., 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.

The DGA says the suit, which asks the court to find the editing practices legal and head off a lawsuit the plaintiffs expected from DGA, has no merit.

Clean Flicks of Colorado LLC and Boise, Idaho, attorney Robert Huntsman, who has a patent pending on movie editing technology, are asking 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," said Pete Webb, a spokesman for the plaintiffs.

"We believe the public as a whole is being served by having a choice of how they view films in the privacy of their own homes. The success of these directors is due not only to their own talents, but due to a viewing public who has contributed to their success. We encourage the movie industry to work with us to give back to the public some additional viewing choices," added attorney Huntsman. "Editing to major motion pictures, especially removing foul language and nudity, is done for network television, for use on airlines, and in many other settings. The directors allow those edits, but they've raised objections in the rental area. We think a jury will want to agree with us, that you shouldn't be required to watch what you find objectionable," said Webb.

The lawsuit asserts that trademark and copyright laws allow "fair use" of protected material, and personal use is included in that interpretation of fair use. The DGA doesn't see it that way.

"A cursory review by the Directors Guild of America and our legal counsel of the lawsuit filed today in Denver shows it to bewholly without merit. In fact, we believe it is the plaintiffs who, through their unauthorized altering of original works, are in violation of the law," said a DGA statement. "Appallingly, the plaintiffs rely on the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment as an excuse to alter originalworks and pass them along -- for profit -- to the public. Perhaps they are unaware that the United States Constitution directed Congress to pass laws to ensure that the creators of original works had the exclusive right to their work and prohibited their unauthorized exploitation by others for financial gain. The Directors Guild of America will vigorously protect the rights of its members, and we are confident that any efforts tolegitimize the unauthorized editing and alteration of movies will be resoundingly defeated."

Soderbergh, a first VP of the DGA, has been quoted in DGA statements on editing-for-families practices, to which the DGA objects on "artistic" grounds. The directors, through the DGA, have published Web site details of the lawsuit they intend to file against third parties who've been removing foul language and scenes of sex, violence and gore from movies before renting them to families.

Clean Flicks has stores in Colorado, Utah and Idaho and has been operating for 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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