COPYRIGHT / CENSORSHIP
Film and televison

On July 6, 2006, the US District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that companies that produce sanitized copies of Hollywood films on DVD are violating copyright law and must stop editing out the content they find offensive. The defendants (by counterclaim) included CleanFlicks, a Utah-based company which creates and publicly distributes copies of the plaintiffs’ movies that have been altered by deleting “sex, nudity, profanity and gory violence”.  CleanFlicks sells directly to video stores and to consumers online through its web site.  Purchasers are required to buy both the authorized and edited copies.

The plaintiffs (by counterclaim) included major movie studios, such as MGM, Paramount, and Twentieth Century Fox, and a number of high-profile directors such as Robert Altman, Steven Soderbergh and Steven Spielberg.  The studios sell and distribute movies to the public on DVD and VHS for purchase and rental.  They also sell and distribute edited versions of the movies for use by airlines and network television. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants were violating their right to create derivative works, or edited versions of their films.  They did not seek damages but rather an injunction preventing the defendants from copying and distributing the altered versions of their movies.  In response, the defendants asserted that they are making “fair use” of the copyrighted works.

In his 16-page decision, Judge Richard Matsch wrote, “The [moviemakers’] objective…is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies.  There is a public interest in providing such protection despite the injury the infringers may sustain.  [The infringers’] business is illegitimate.”  He also held that “the right to control the content of the copyrighted work … is the essence of the law of copyright.”

While this action was pending, US Congress enacted the Family Movie Act of 2005, which provides an exemption for the editing of motion pictures by a member of a private household if no fixed copy of the altered version of the motion picture is created [see E-TIPS ® Vol 3 No 19 March 9 th 2005) “New US Copyright Legislation: Congress and the Silver Screen” and E-TIPS Vol 3 No 23 May 11 2005 “DVD Filtering Legalized: Family Friendly or Affront to Artistic Vision?”]. The ruling, therefore, does not affect ClearPlay, another Utah-based company, which sells video filtering software to allow home viewers to skip over any content they find objectionable.

For the full text of the decision (Clean Flicks of Colorado LLC v Cleanflicks LLCet al, Civil Action No 02-cv-01662-RPM), see:

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/cleanflickssoder70606opn.pdf

This summary is by Clare McCurley writing for E-Tips a publication of Deeth Williams Wall LLP (www.dww.com) Edited by Richard Potter QC.