Many readers found stifling Judge Richard P. Matsch's decision yesterday that Cleanflix, a service selling versions of popular movies edited (some would say censored) to remove violence, nudity and other elements, was in violation of U.S. copyright law for selling these edited versions, while others welcomed the decision as appropriately respecting the intent of those who made the original movies. Read on for the Backslash summary of the conversation, with some of the best comments of the more than 1200 that readers contributed to the story.
While some comments evaluated the decision as a victory for filmmakers as artists rather than merely as copyright holders, some readers aren't so sure that directors' and studios' interests have much to do artistic integrity, and suggest that it's primarily their commercial rather than aesthetic interests being served here. TheFlyingGoat makes a case for this view:
"I understand where the movie companies are coming from in terms of copyright... they don't want people taking a DVD, adding additional clips/features/menus/etc, and selling that for a profit. ...
As for the directors and producers that claim their artistic vision was impeded upon, they sure don't have an issue with those movies being modified in the exact same way for broadcast on network tv. All they care about is the large amount of money the networks give them.
So, what this really comes down to is the movie studios wanting complete control over their works, which I'm surprised to see much of the Slashdot crowd backing up. Seems it's better to hate "the red states" than to hate the MPAA."
Whether even the financial interest of the studios is being served by nixing the Cleanflix service, though, is a point that the same reader finds ambiguous, too. [the studios are] "getting just as much money from each DVD sale, so it's not like they're losing any business. In fact, they're probably gaining business from those people who wouldn't normally buy a certain movie due to violent/sexual/etc content, but will if they get an edited version of the movie."
MarcoAtWork says he doesn't swallow the "artistic integrity" argument either, and notes the bizarre script deviations which licensed showings on broadcast or cable television sometimes end up with: "Something tells me that the director's 'artistic vision' for example didn't include Bruce Willis saying 'Yippee-ki-yay Mister Falcon.' in Die Hard, or 'This is what happens whey you find a stranger in the Alps!' in the Big Lebowski."
Anticipating a "kneejerk reaction," reader Brian_Ellenberger has a more aggressive reaction of his own, writing
"Don't approve of this action just because you think it only hurts a bunch of 'right-wing Christian zealots.' Remember fair use! There was a one-to-one copy sold with each of these DVDs---the original and the edited. The filmmakers did not lose one dime, and in fact made money with each copy sold. ... So if we are to argue that, if you bought something you have the legal right to do whatever you want to it (Fast Forward through commercials, play on a Linux box, rip to a hard drive), then you cannot allow Hollywood to start acquiring new rights for their so-called 'artistic vision.' Otherwise, you will find yourself unable to fast forward through scenes (or commercials) because that would violate the 'artistic vision' of Hollywood."
More concise is reader Raul654's capsule description of the result: "If I own a DVD, I cannot pay someone to make a copy of that movie for me sans parts I might find offensive. It's not censorship, because I'm the one asking him to do it for me."
There are plenty of mixed feelings about motives and results in this discussion, though: reader m874t232 says he doesn't like people who "scrub" movies, but he still doesn't like the outcome because of the short-sightedness he perceives in it, writing "For millennia, art has progressed and evolved by taking some prior artist's work and modifying it, often in ways that the original artist didn't agree with. Except for possibly receiving financial compensation for a limited time for each copy created, artists should not have the power to control what happens to their creations after they have released them to the public."Reader zakezuke took issue with that viewpoint, arguing instead that
"Fair use would be you making a backup copy, putting the one you bought into storage, and using the backup. This is fair use. Heck, even taking a film that you own, making a copy and cutting out scenes you don't like... that is also fair use. What's not fair use is making a copy, cutting scenes, and selling it as a new version without any consent. This is not a one to one copy as there are scenes cut. Money is beside the point... a copyright holder has every right to choose how a work is distributed. This would include not wanting some bozo cutting scenes on a work that took time to create. Any flaws, mistakes, anything which affects the overall presentation can damage the reputation of the respective studio and artists that created the work. It's like taking spray paint to a piece of fine art and going over the bits one finds offensive, this affects the quality of the piece and the viewer might assume the artist is sloppy dolt or doesn't have the technical skill or is too reserved to make a winkle."
Reader spencer1 offers some insight into why people might want to watch movies in other than their all-killing, all-cursing original versions:
"As others have already stated, this has absolutely nothing to do with Walmart. This applies to services such as CleanFlix, which are very popular in Utah and Idaho. I am a Mormon, and I frequent Cleanflix often. Some movies are very enjoyable, but contain bits that I don't wish to see. If the mainstream want to see those bits, fine, go ahead; these services are not for them. If I don't want to see it, how does it affect you? Cleanflix allows me to rent movies that I would not otherwise rent, they are now turning away a potential customer. This does not hurt the copyright holder, they still receive the full purchase price for all the movies that Cleanflix uses. Their revenue is not altered in any way by this editing."
For anyone who has reason to desire a version other than the theatrical release of a film, the decision against Cleanflix doesn't mean the end of expurgation; reader jambarama points out a technical solution which seems much less legally fragile (and which seems to meet zakezuke's objection above), in the form of another service with a similar practical result, but without the messiness of reproducing a derivative work, writing:
"A good alternative for those who don't want their young children to see 'bad' stuff is Clearplay. We've had it for a while, here is how it works:
- Buy a normal DVD with all the "naughty bits"
- Get the filter from the clearplay website for that DVD
- Transfer the filter via USB or CD to the clearplay DVD player
- Watch your DVD - the filter tells the DVD player where to skip the naughty bits - no editing, just timecodes to be skipped."
Something similar could probably be put together fairly quickly using programs like Avidemux or VirtualDub for those who don't mind distributing the work of classifying and sharing the necessary edit-decision lists. Reader OYAHHH outlines how such a system might be implemented for those unlikely to apply hand-edited EDLs:
"What somebody needs to do is to devise a DVD player that can read a file delineating where the objectionable parts are on the particular DVD. Once the bad parts are known to the player the player simply skips them.
People who want to view the unedited version are happy and those that don't desire to see whatever content can be happy as well.
The original content on the original DVD is not altered in any manner. Copyright is protected.
Religious groups could then produce the "files" to correspond to their own needs and distribute these files via the Internet. The files are uploaded to the special DVD player."
Thanks to all the readers who contributed to this discussion, especially those quoted above.