Monday, July 10, 2006

CleanFlix ruling

How could I not comment...

So the big news is that so far CleanFlix has lost it's case. (I'm sure they'll appeal.) As a quick recap , CleanFlix sells edited versions of various movies. They were sued by various directors.

"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."
Having read various debates at slashdot (warning: slashdot is slashdot) and millenial star there's a couple of different issues at play.
  1. Copyright law - copyright law allows the creator control over derivative works, so yes CleanFlix et al was in violation. Of course, since the length of copyrights has been extended pretty much indefinitely, there will be no derivative works (without permission). Yes, TV and airplanes have edited versions, but those are done with permission (and the payment of lots of money). An interesting question is whether most directors actually hold the copyright to the movies they direct. I'd be surprised if they did, it is much more likely the studios hold them. I suppose it looks better to have the directors bring the suit. There's an article at slate that makes this point.
  2. Should I really be watching this movie even if it is edited - as members of the LDS church, we've been counseled to avoid 'R' rated and many PG-13 movies since the content is less than desirable. So should you buy a copy of the 'R' rated version to satisfy moral and monetary obligation to the artist then have it edited or not buy it at all (as in don't watch the movie). Even cute movies, like "While You Were Sleeping" have a scenes my family always fastforwarded through. I'd love to have a version that did that for me. I'm still undecided on this issue.
  3. Artistic Integrity (quoting out of context) - the copyright holders feel they have a right to make sure the film is viewed how they want it viewed. I could see a scenario where someone made an edited copy of a film that changed the film's message. (The scenario I could see for this is maybe a racist group changing some film to portray a minority group as evil.) Perhaps cutting out a redemption scene leaving the viewer feeling that the hero deserved to die. This is similar to quoting out of context. By wanting the viewer to see the whole movie, they want the whole message to be seen.
  4. Artistic Integrity is secondary to money - unless the movie was an indie film or made by a very famous director, the studio had a lot of say in the film. The studio's goal is making money. Thus things are added or taken away based on how the studio thinks the public will react to them. Thus, if someone changes a movie in a way that will make it appeal to a wider demographic, I don't see why they care all that much as long as they get paid. If the studio was planning "clean" releases, I could see them being upset because this is destroying their market. But I don't think they are.
  5. Movies are a two way street - no copyright holder can guarantee that his movie will affect any one person a specific way. Take the movie "Napoleon Dynamite". Some people love it, some people think it is the dumbest movie ever. Or say Al Gore's movie An inconvenient Truth (haven't seen it, but I can sure mention it) , some people feel it is a life changing movie and other people feel it is a load of bad science. The fact is, I have control over what I watch. I go the bathroom during the scary parts of movie. Different people see different themes in the same movie. Most people, after having seen it once, will edit the movie anyway to support those themes. For example, I watched "The two towers" and I always skip through Frodo and Sam (LOTR lovers, please don't flame me) and most of the battle scenes. (It's great, I can take a 4 hour movie and watch it in an hour and a half). Then it becomes a great story of a king coming to his own and the friendships that support it. The director, unless he or she is also the screenwriter, has already adapted someone else's work by deciding how the characters should look and what parts should be changed. Why are they so offended when someone else disagrees with their views?
  6. Hollywood is Evil - separate from the copyright debate, but just under the surface is this interesting question: If a movie can be edited for swearing and sex (I'm leaving violence out because that's a different issue) and still be a good movie, why are they in there in the first place? I think directors and studios want to argue that they are vital or that they reflect society. I'm not so sure. I wonder if they worry that people won't go to see a movie because there is no swearing in it. Of reasons that people won't go to see movies, that usually isn't one of them, a poor plot is much more common. I wonder if they fear a PG rating that adults somehow associate a G or PG movie with kids movies. I think people get locked into this view that since I'm an adult, I can watch swearing, sex and violence and not be affected.
I don't have any real conclusions to offer, but that case did make for a nice long blog entry.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

An interesting away around the copyright problem might be to devise a system of programmed filters. A filter might be an instruction set that tells the DVD playing software to skip certain scenes of to mute certain areas of the audio.

If you had a set of programmed filters then the censor would end up owning the copyright to the censor script. The movie itself would be shipped whole. The LDS ready version of the movie would be obtained by combining the filter and movie.

We are assuming a DVD software package capable of interpretting a censor filter.