The Directors Guild of America, along with seven movie studios, have won a fight against several companies that have been editing and then reselling DVD's to remove scenes containing violence, sex, and other things they arbitrarily found inappropriate. It was billed as a "freedom of choice" for consumers, and claimed to fall within the 'fair rights' doctrine of copyright law. A federal judge in Colorado disagreed, and has ruled that the actions of CleanFlicks and few other copycat companies have violated the copyright of the studios, and must shutdown immediately.
“Their business is illegitimate [...] The right to control the content of the copyrighted work...is the essence of the law of copyright.”
This was not unexpected; commercialization is one of the most important tests of fair use. If your unauthorized copying uses the material in direct competition with the source, you're shit out of luck. As the judge clearly said, this is the very nature and purpose of copyright laws. You cannot creative a derivative work, and then sell it. The proper way to do this is to create special DVD players that download scene lists from the Internet and skip the scenes as the disk plays, without modifying the disk at all. The studios didn't like this either, but they lost that case, and rightly so. This case was never going to end any other way, and CleanFlicks knew it, because they were the ones who initiated the lawsuit.
CleanFlicks filed a lawsuit against Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford (and more), seven studios including MGM, Disney, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox, and finally the Directors Guild of America. They sought a preemptive ruling that declared their actions legal, and ended up eating crow, placing them in the unenviable position of having to go out of business, while still being on the hook for the legal fees of everyone involved. Ouch.
Though it's being billed as a victory for the Directors Guild and the various movie studios that came on board at the DGA's request, this is really a victory for writers as well, because it was a fight over creativity. Nobody was losing money over this, but all the people emotionally and physically involved with creating films were having a completely different version of it sold -- with their names still attached -- and that's wrong. It's wrong morally, and now it's wrong legally. We had as much at stake in this as the directors did, only we, like the DGA, actually had no leg to stand on. The studios own the copyrights, so only the studio had standing on the matter. (Obviously this doesn't matter when you are the one getting sued, but it was going to come to a legal fight no matter who started it.)
CleanFlicks is going to appeal, but they are just going to lose again. Chances are they'll give up at that point, because as of right now, they are out of business. No cash flow, and they have been ordered to hand over their stock of illegally edited DVD's within five days. By way of association, the companies that were creating these DVD's are also liable. It is not immediately clear what monetary damages will be involved, but I wouldn't be surprised if the number was significant. All of these movies are registered with the Library of Congress, which entitles the studios to $150,000 per violation simply as a statutory damage. That's right, $150k per individual DVD edited and sold.
The studios are demonized, often for good reason, but today they were the good guys, and did us all a favor.
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