Fair use, copyright and editing

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on July 12, 2006

Last week, federal district judge Richard Matsch ruled that three Utah-based companies that provide PG-rated, edited versions of feature films are an "illegitimate business."

The quotes from Matsch in the CBC article are over the top.

Judge Richard P. Matsch decreed on Thursday in Denver, Colo., that sanitizing movies to delete content that may offend some people is an "illegitimate business."

The judge also praised the motives of the Hollywood studios and directors behind the suit, ordering the companies that provide the service to hand over their inventories.

"Their 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."

The directors behind the suit included Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese. There's no word on whether George Lucas was part of the lawsuit -- that would've been a hoot considering the "irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression" that he's done over the decades to the Star Wars movies.

Let's take a look at what these companies were doing: They were providing to consumers, with full knowledge of those consumers, movies that had violence, nudity and profanity edited out. In other words, they were doing what happens every time one of these movies appears on broadcast television.

They also weren't pirating the movies. For every edited movie they sold, they bought an unedited one from the studios.

The debate on this issue over at Slashdot was interesting -- especially for a community that usually is quick to come to the defense of fair use rights. A simple and to-the-point refutation of the judge's ruling comes from Raul654:

Result in a nutshell: 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*. But in yet another defeat for personal freedom (and another win for the moneyed interests), the courts have found that this is a violation of copyright law.

Personally, I've little problem tolerating the gratuitous violence, profanity and nudity in most movies. I'm relatively young and have become accustomed to it. However, there are quite a few good films that can easily be made accessible to people like my grandmother if we were just allowed a few modest snips.

I'd like to think that technology will allow us some legally acceptable way of accomplishing this goal, even if Judge Matsch's ruling is upheld on appeal.

0 comments on “Fair use, copyright and editing”

  1. Sure, it will be legally acceptable. As long as companies like that Utah firm do not interfere in the revenue stream that Spielberg/Scorsese get from broadcast/cable television.

    Do you really believe this would even be an issue if, say, Netflix contracted with Scorsese to sell an edited version?

  2. I have to agree with the Judge on this one. When you purchase a DVD, you are purchasing a license right to watch that movie. A license right is more tenuous then ownership or leasing rights. Unlike when you buy a product such as a car or a sofa, you are not buying the actual rights to the movie. Part of that license, like when you buy software (if you read the small print), is that you will not alter that movie. The movie company has the exclusive rights to that film and how it will be presented. Here you have a company profiting off of someone elses work without obtaining the right to do so. If the editing company wants to provide edited versions of such movies, it needs to get the permission of the movie company that owns the film. If there is enough demand for it then the movie companies will allow it for a fee.

    When a TV station buys the rights to show an edited version of the movie, they are paying the company who owns the movie to show the edited version. Therefore they have the consent of the owner.


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July 2006



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