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Court Rules in Cleanflicks Case
By: Layne Winklebleck (Free Speech Coalition)
Denver – U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch has ruled in favor of the Directors Guild of America and a group of prominent movie directors, including Robert Altman, Steven Soderbergh and Steven Spielberg in a lawsuit against Robert Huntsman and CleanFlicks of Colorado, and a number of other companies that commercially sell and rent censored versions of popular films. The CleanFlicks scheme was to purchase videos, edit them and then rent them. Cleanflicks argued that it didn’t violate copyright laws because it buys a new copy every time it edits a film.
Businesses that edit sex, profanity and violence out of DVD and VHS copies in an appeal to some viewers’ tastes are "illegitimate," said Judge Matsch. He ordered ClearFlicks and several other companies to stop censoring the films and to turn over their copies of expurgated films to Hollywood’s major studios. Judge Matsch’s ruling only applies to the ClearFlicks-style editing process. The ruling does not affect certain other movie sanitizers, which use computer programs to electronically edit by skipping and muting portions of films while leaving the original DVD intact. Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay, for instance, sells DVD players that can be set to screen out varying degrees of violence, sex and profanity, depending on viewer preferences.
The Cleanflicks customers watched a much-altered movie. In the CleanFlicks version of "Titanic," Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett never appear without their clothes; in "Schindler’s List," Liam Neeson as Schindler does not have sex outside his marriage; in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," Steve Martin does not say naughty words; and in "Saving Private Ryan," soldiers die but they do not bleed a lot. The program was popular with conservative groups who wanted to be able to watch films but objected to the explicit content. A number of other companies quickly began to use a similar model, including Clean Films, Family Flix, U.S.A., and Play It Clean Video.
CleanFlicks initiated the legal fight in August, 2002, by suing prominent directors, asking for a declaration that cleaning up their films didn’t violate copyright laws. The directors filed a counter action. Later, the Hollywood studios joined in support of the directors. The studios had been reluctant to join the ongoing legal battle between sanitizers and directors, largely for fear of seeming to oppose advocates of film decency. “We were dragged in kicking and screaming,” one executive said.
"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," said Directors Guild of America President Michael Apted.
CleanFlicks Chief Executive Ray Lines expressed disappointment at the decision but said they planned to continue the fight.
If CleanFlicks were to prevail, and Hollywood were to lose the ability to protect the integrity of their productions, it would be a slippery slope indeed. If scenes can be deleted, then, arguably, scenes could be added. So, with a little help from the adult entertainment industry, Leonardo DiCaprio may have appeared to do much more than just look at Kate Winslett in the nude. With modern technology, anything is possible.