Ridiculous extensions of copyright scope

Today brought news that CleanFlicks and similar companies, who edit Hollywood movies for adult content and distribute versions on DVD or Video Cassette are violating copyright. The judge bought the studios standard line:

“Their (studios and directors) objective . . . is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies,” the judge wrote. “There is a public interest in providing such protection.”

… Directors can feel vindicated by the ruling, said Michael Apted, president of the Director’s Guild of America.

“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,” he said.

This borders on the ridiculous; actually it is ridiculous. 

When I first heard about these services, it was from someone expressing outrage from capture by the Christian Right. But my reaction was: where can I sign up? My problem is that children get bombarded with advertisements for M or above rated movies and when it comes down to it, we don’t take them usually because of about 5 percent of non-plot related questionable content. How nice to just cut those out and let them see the rest?

So what do these editing companies do. First, they pay for the full price of a DVD to the studios. So every time they make a sale it is the same to the studios as if the unedited DVD had been sold. So there is no economic loss whatsoever. Second, it is hard to imagine that those viewing it would have viewed it anyway in its full artistic glory. So there is no loss there either. So the service appears to be a win-win. Finally, it is more or less competitively provided, so there isn’t much opportunity for others to excessive profits; if that was the concern. Hence, allowing copyright to prevent this type of service is a pure social loss and, therefore, completely ridiculous.

It gets even worse if you think about it a little more. The main defense is artistic integrity. But, come on, the whole notion of a Director’s Cut flies in the face of this; it is an editing of the product to pander to another type of customer who wants that integrity and wouldn’t otherwise get it. ‘Uncut’ versions of movies are another example. Indeed, for movies in airplanes, there is often censorship. So why is it OK to edit for main release but not cut for DVD?

Think for a second of what other copyrighted material would be covered by the spurious defense. What happens if you don’t read every word in a book or skip chapters? What if you don’t listen to the songs in order on an album? What if you get scared and cover your eyes? What if you get bored and fall asleep? What if you go to the bathroom during a movie? What if you pause a DVD and interrupt the flow? And what if you don’t stay for the end credits? We drift off into the absurd if we believe at all that copyright law has anything to do with artistic vision.

This all continues into major hypocracy when we consider merchandising. So there are Superman toys all over the place for a movie that is M-rated. And the toys are noticable in their targetting of those under the age of 15. From this perspective, the studios are culpable in appealing to youth yet for whatever reason releasing movies that they are advised not to see. This puts parents in a difficult position of explaining all this.

The editing services broker a line through this sea of contradiction. As they do no harm only adds to the case for them continuing. When it comes down to it, I should be able to cut up or edit any copyrighted material I buy so long as I am paying full price for it. Copyright is a right to preclude copying, not editing, and it should remain that way.

8 thoughts on “Ridiculous extensions of copyright scope”

  1. I agree with the studios on this one. They don’t want someone to see a decimated version of a movie and tell their friends that it sucked because all the good bits had been taken out. Can you imagine how bad a PG-rated version of “Showgirls” would be?
    A better solution would be a smart DVD player that can download parental-control edit commands and apply them as the DVD plays. As I understand it, you are free to edit DVDs in this way, as long as you don’t on-sell the result.


  2. I can imagine how bad a PG-rated of Showgirls might be and I cannot imagine these folks selling them. But good for them if they can.

    No objections to the DVD solution here, but at the moment that is harder than someone doing the edits. It is not a reason to extend copyright laws to the prevention of editing.


  3. The problem with editing and on-selling a DVD is that it could damage the movie’s brand and the director’s reputation.
    Let’s say I set up a business buying textbooks that you have written, and editing them to remove all traces of humour (since making education enjoyable goes against my religion). I then on-sell these textbooks, keeping the same title and your name as author. The poor students who have to endure these textbooks will get the impression that you suck as an author, and will avoid purchasing your books in future. Should that be legal?
    By the way, as I read it, the extension to copyright scope only affects the on-selling of edited material. You should still be free to fast-forward, go to the toilet, and fall asleep while watching your own personal copy.


  4. No one is suggesting doing this without full information. You have to tell people what you have done.

    Suppose a lecturer adopts a textbook and then assigns students reading but allows them to skip over hard quantitative material. The author believes that is essential. Do you seriously believe that the author should be able to use copyright law to stop the lecturer?

    I am not suggesting that the extension really applies to that other things but if integrity is the key thing it would by all logic apply to those too.


  5. Just a minor note that if you do want to get editted films try http://clearplay.com/ enabled DVD players (you can do better pricewise then direct from the website, walmart did/does? carry them.) It supposedly clumsy to update, but workable. It is also specifically exempted by law (the family movie act) http://www.publicknowledge.org/issues/s167

    So it rather insane really. (In truth the hardware based version was probably legal before hand). I hope that helps with your needs.


  6. If the sole purpose of copyright is to protect the copyright owner’s economic rights, then Joshua’s right. Editing a work is just adding information to it.

    But if copyright also has the purpose of giving the owner complete control over the form in which the work is published, then Joshua’s wrong. Editing a work is changing its form.

    In other words, Joshua’s wrong.


  7. If people actually purchase the edited DVDs because they don’t want whatever nasty content in them, it’s hard to see them being disappointed because there was no nasty content, so where’s the reputational damage? And the artistic expression thing is nonsense, even if we believe it really is all about the art and not the money. The director has already released a movie in whatever format he and the studios decide will work, so no-one’s infringing on their rights to artistic expression. Plus, I want to see Jaws without the scary bits (never could sit through it, but feel I’m missing all sorts of pop culture references).


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