Spielberg, Redford, Altman, others named defendants

This article’s headline was corrected on Sept. 19, 2002.

HOLLYWOOD — More than a dozen of Hollywood’s top helmers have been sued by a tiny Denver video chain that rents sanitized versions of their films in a preemptive strike against an expected DGA lawsuit.

“We are taking the bull by the horns,” said Pete Webb, spokesman for CleanFlicks of Colorado. “We want to get our suit into court before the DGA does.”

CleanFlicks and attorney Robert Huntsman filed the action Thursday in federal court in Denver, seeking a ruling that the editing practices are protected under federal copyright law. Defendants include Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman, Steven Soderbergh, John Landis and Martin Scorsese.

The plaintiffs are claiming that they have a First Amendment right to excise foul language, sex and violence from videos destined for private use.

“The interest of these plaintiffs is to remove the ‘rough edges’ — the objectionable content — only for the family viewing audience,” Webb said. “Their personal sensitivities don’t allow them to view the unaltered work, but they appreciate the storyline or historical context and want to be able to view the movie, without having to listen to the ‘F’ word.”

CleanFlicks said a pending suit by the Directors Guild of America was to be filed on behalf of some of the same helmers and assert that the practice of “editing for families” violates copyright.

CleanFlicks, with two stores each in Colorado and Idaho, operates by charging members monthly or yearly fees. Huntsman claims to have a patent pending for movie editing technology.

The DGA had no immediate comment, nor did the Motion Picture Assn. of America even though it reps the studios, which own the video copyrights.

Web alert

CleanFlicks said its info about the pending DGA suit was gleaned through a since-withdrawn Aug. 20 posting on the DGA Web site about the guild and 12 directors suing seven entities that engage in the practice. Plaintiffs listed included Altman, Michael Apted, Taylor Hackford, Curtis Hanson, Norman Jewison, Landis, Michael Mann, Phillip Noyce, Brad Silberling, Betty Thomas and Irwin Winkler.

The DGA site also posted a since-withdrawn statement of support from the Film Foundation, which supports film preservation and artists’ rights.

“As filmmakers, we make our films with a certain audience in mind,” said Scorsese, who is president of the foundation, in the announcement. “Not every picture is meant to be seen by everyone — especially children. The random alteration and distribution of these (films) by companies without the consent or involvement of the film’s legal owners and the filmmakers is unacceptable and destroys the credibility of our films and our names.”

Rental objection

Huntsman noted that editing to major features — such as removing blue language and nudity — is done for broadcast on network television and showings on airlines.

“The directors allow those edits, but they’ve raised objections in the rental area,” Huntsman added. “We think a jury will want to agree with us that you shouldn’t be required to watch what you find objectionable.”

Webb said he was uncertain whether his CleanFlicks of Colorado company — which is a licensee of CleanFlicks of Utah — would have been named as a defendant in the DGA suit. The DGA’s announcement cited CleanFlicks and MyCleanFlicks along with Albertsons, Video II, JWD Management, Trilogy Studios and Family Shield Technologies.

“We are appalled at the proliferation of companies that bypass the copyright holder and the filmmaker and arbitrarily alter the creative expression and hard work of the many artists involved in filmmaking,” said Soderbergh, who is DGA 1st VP, in the announcement.

The DGA announcement also accused the purported defendants of being in violation of federal laws barring false advertising, trademark infringement and unfair competition.

The CleanFlicks suit asserts trademark and copyright laws allow “fair use” of protected material, and personal use is included in that interpretation of “fair use.”

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