Friday, May 06, 2005

He wants me if he can keep me in line

Caught an interesting documentary on AMC called Bleep! Censoring Hollywood. I found myself torn on this, because I think there are pretty clear copyright issues on one side, and then some interesting larger intellectual property questions on the other.

At issue are a small number of copies which sell DVD "sanitizing" services. The basic model for these companies is pretty similar. They buy a retail copy of a movie, import it into some video editing software, and remove what they find offensive. They then market these as cleaned-up versions of the films, more suitable for young viewers.

It seems to me that there's a blunt copyright violation going on here for those companies which market the videos for sale or rental. You've created an unauthorized copy of the vast majority of the work for commercial purposes. Copyright violation, do not pass go, do not collect any dollars. Yes, all the companies are careful to also buy a retail copy of the movie, to minimize economic harm to the producers, and that is one aspect considered under fair use. But I don't think there's much of a chance it outweighs the fact that they are editing and reselling something which is not theirs to edit or resell.

What, though, of the company which does this on a "subscription" basis? AMC didn't go into enough detail on this business model, unfortunately. But it seems to me that there might be a loophole if what you sell is a "service" instead of a "product." Clearly, I am allowed to make my own cleaned up edit of a movie I personally buy. I don't see why letting someone else do the editing for me would change things. I don't know if it's possible (or practical) to run a legal business in this manner, but I'm curious. (My hunch is that it's allowable, but probably not practical, since the letter of the law would suggest that the movie would have to be recut from scratch for every new clean copy made.)

And then there's CleanPlay, who markets a specialized DVD player and a software DVD with the codes for what portions of the movie might be found objectionable in what ways. (The end user can then decide what to watch... gimme a full order of sex, with a half side of violence, hold the F-bomb.) It works with any regular off-the-shelf DVD (if they've coded it). I just can't see any way this is a violation. Essentially, they're selling an unofficial viewer's guide, but they're not copying the original work. If this is illegal, so are concordances and Cliffs Notes.

So that's the legal end. The IP and artistic end gets hairier.

UPDATE: The President has signed the "Family Entertainment and Copyright Act" (PL 109-9), which expressly makes these sanitizing services legal, particularly the software-based ones. At the same time, there's no protection for the sale or rental of these copies, only for editing them "by or at the direction of a private household." So there's still some undetermined area as far as the business model.

It also increases the penalties on for-profit movie piracy, and prerelease theft, reauthorizes LC's National Film Preservation Board and Foundation, and gives libraries and archives a bit more latitude in dealing with orphan works (i.e. works where we can't locate the copyright holder).

So if you're scoring at home, or even if you're alone, that's Small Conservative Businesses 4, Large Liberal Businesses 2, You 1.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

Someone asked my opinion of this the other day. On the whole, my reaction is one of the "big deal" variety. I don't know how large the market is for these "sanitized" movies, but I have a hard time believing that it will grow. All I can think about is how lame I thought the "movies edited for television" were when I was growing up. I couldn't wait to get older and see the whole thing.

1:47 PM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

The 1950s were followed by the 1960s.

Tommy - I suspect that the market s growing, which is why so many compaies are seekin a slice of it. I'd be curious to know how this market share compares with the folks purchasing porn movies.

2:31 PM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

For a number of reasons involving local work- and parent-related issues I won't go into, I recently had my students view a film through one of the profanity-eliminating devices (this one: It was some combination of horrendous and hilarious. When a character would say, for example, "Oh, shit!" the mechanism would kick in, mute the sound, and put "Oh, salt!" on closed captioning. The students thought it was hilarious...they laughed uproariously, and I don't think it was laughing with...

The funniest part was when the machine didn't work properly (which was often). It'd mistime the muting, so there'd be a mute, an "Oh, salt!" on the screen, and then a shouted "SHIT!" right after the muting stopped. Damn funny. It looks like the technology has a helluva long way to go.

Also, come on. "Salt"??? You can get rid of the profanity without making everyone sound like my Aunt Verle.

I support the right of the two or three conservative parents who don't want their kids watching this movie to watch it with this mechanism active, or to make me provide an alternate curriculum. I don't support them making that decision for the other 113 people in the room.

Copyright issues? I defer to Joe.

Joe--thanks for the Aimee Mann title.

8:58 PM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

Incidentally, I would rush to purchase a system that ADDED sex, violence, or profanity to shows. I would immediately watch:

--a Sue Bird highlight video, or a film with a gorgeous actress which, alas, lacks nudity

--ESPN's Sunday Night Football haltime show with Paul Maguire, Joe Theismann, and Mike Patrick (I'd add violence and have the crap beat out of them somehow)

--Barney (I'd turn up the profanity)

9:01 PM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

The thought of Barney saying "Oh, SALT!" repeatedly would make me wet my pants from hilarity.


2:17 PM, May 14, 2005  

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